Joey Moran is the breakout director and writer of The Demon Inside, his impressive debut feature about a blue-collar family forced to face a paranormal entity. Moran has also written and directed the television show Z-virus.
Wicked Horror’s own April Bennett caught up with Moran to talk his first film, where he gets his inspiration from and those super-popular ghost hunting TV shows that seem to be taking over the airwaves lately:
Wicked Horror: First of all, I wanted to congratulate you on writing and directing your very first movie, The Demon Inside! was wondering where you sought inspiration for the plot for your film. Where did you get the idea?
Joey Moran: Mostly I stole it from other movies but a lot of it came from my own experiences at the time. I had just become a new father. My daughter was born and I was working a lot when she was one, but I took a lot of time off when she was two to do a lot of writing. I was hanging out with her a lot at home while my wife worked. I was always into horror films, but after the birth of my daughter I got a new way to watch horror films. Previously, I had watched them from a young man’s point of view of being like oh yeah that’s stupid, everyone is dumb, the typical criticism of horror films. But, now with my two-year-old daughter and me home alone, I started coming up with what would I do if I were in that situation. In watching poltergeist, I wondered how would I be Craig T. Nelson and handle this sort of situation. This newfound sense of love and wanting to protect my daughter and family if something came in my house, I would be so angry and so mad that something was trying to harm them. I wouldn’t run or be scared, I would be furious about the whole thing. And that’s when I came up with the idea of an even more extreme version of me. What would happen if a ghost or a demon picked the wrong father or family? The family always picks the wrong house or the wrong trip, but what if the entity or evil spirit picked the wrong dad to mess with and that is where I started with the idea. What if a ghost showed up at the house of a Rambo or an ex-con, I wanted to see the fight back more than the scare. Demon Inside was pushed as a horror film, but it is way more like an indie action film at its core. It’s how the everyday man would react. Coming into it, I didn’t watch a lot of horror films because I could already recall all the typical horror movie tropes and what makes a horror film work. I started watching crime dramas and thrillers and especially the movie Heat. Heat was a huge influence and I thought about a young Robert DeNiro in heat ran into a demon a demon in his home.
WH: Right, I kind of got that sense from it, that is partially why I enjoyed it so much. Addressing the Ghost Killers in the movie, who are a hilarious parody of ghost hunter shows, did you mean for them to be such a strong satire in a humorous way or in a more critical way? Were you trying to get at these kinds of ghost shows like ha-ha look how funny they are or was it more like a wow this is how ridiculous this is kind of thing?
JM: I think it’s both and it comes from my cynical view of everything. Even when I am trying to write something serious I gotta install comedic tones into it because that is how life is. You know it’s never always one or the other. At a funeral people laugh, people talk about stuff and goofy things happen even when people talk in serious situations. I brought in the Ghost Killers to bring in some light heartedness to the situation. I meant it as a satire of reality tv altogether as these guys are trying to make a buck out of exploiting people and it made sense when I got the cast all together. We are actually all friends now and I was just in Dallas where we shot it and we all hung out together. During filming, once those actors got together it was really when the improv starting kicking up and people started having a really fun time with it.
WH: Personally, I love watching those shows as an adult for the more comedic value, the edits and the over the top deliveries. So, as soon as the Ghost Killers came into frame I knew exactly what they were about and I enjoyed every minute of it.
JM: Totally, my mom and my wife say the same thing, what are you watching, what is this and then you watch it and you are so entertained by it. Because it is insanely stupid.
WH: It is crazy! Why do we have seven cuts for the same sentence?
JM: Yes, why are the lights off? Why do you turn the lights off! All of them do that, like when the person owns the hotel is like well we see ghosts during the day and when everyone is around. But no, they decide to turn all the lights off and its like no, she just told you that the ghost will show up at any point, day or night. But they decide we are going be here at midnight and turn the lights off and then we are not going to be able to see anything.
WH: I must commend you on the portrayals of Sam and Courtney Parsons as they are one of the most believable couples I have seen in ages. So, you talked about the dad’s struggle, but when I saw them as a couple you get immediately what they are about, they have struggled and gone through a lot and are just not having it. What was the inspiration for these characters and why do you think they worked so well?
JM: That’s my wife, I stole everything from her. I stole these situations from my own life and from people I know. I mean I just steal and I hate to say it that way, but I will take credit for it in the scenes that I took it from real life experiences. I am such a big movie nerd that I filter out why did I like or dislike this on-screen couple then I try to fill in those blanks with what I know from my own relationship. I think you should do what comedians do and just be really honest about it. I feel like why relationships aren’t believable because everyone wants to make it as melodramatic, overly dramatic as possible. No, just tell people like what your issues with your wife are and her issues with you are, like how you guys really argue and put that in there to make it natural. And then, Madeline and Joe (Courtney and Sam Parsons), those two actors have completely different styles of acting that shows us way more. Joe’s is more method and Madeline has a more natural style to her and I wouldn’t say they battled, but it was really great the differences in their acting styles. It helped them build tension as actors on set and they flowed off each other really well. For two actors with two different styles who would usually butt heads, they took their styles and put it in their characters and make it super natural for them.
WH: Right, as soon as their interactions were shown, I realized that I know that blue collar couple, I am friends with that couple, and I grew up with people like that, so it was really nice to see that represented onscreen.
JM: Again, I wanted the lower middle class to be a big sort of theme for the whole film, the struggling. You always see it in movies I love like Insidious, in the middle of the movie they get up and move to another house and that is a really fresh take of we will just get out of there. But then you are like I want a couple who can’t afford to move out of there. Then you have Paranormal Activity where they force it, but it doesn’t matter if they leave or stay. But I didn’t want that either, I wanted to be like a really natural. These people are struggling financially so that is why they have to deal with this. Not because they are being naive or stupid about the danger or they can overcome it by being upper middle class.
WH: I see in your resume your other major writing and directing credit is for the TV series The Z-Virus. How was transitioning from directing and writing in television to film?
JM: Technically I did The Z-virus after Demon Inside.
WH: Do you did Demon Inside First?
JM: The T.V. show came after, do you want me to flip the question?
WH: Sure, let’s flip the question, it’s not written in stone.
JM: The T.V. series I didn’t like it as much. I didn’t enjoy the open endedness of it. I like a feature film because there is so much more closure in the story you and that is what I really love. In the Demon Inside, the story is done, also you could do a sequel with it obviously, but that story is still self-contained and enclosed. You can always walk away from it that it would be fine on its own, but that is the big difference between the two, writing wise. And then directing, its more cinematic, but I like movies, I just know about T.V. yet. I am in love with all the stuff we are doing, smaller, 8 episodes and obviously I am obsessed with Game of Thrones, but movies are so much more grandiose. What is the word I am looking for, it’s just film, one movie is one movie and you can always go back to that, but it is never sort of this open-ended story that isn’t resolved.
WH: What’s next on the horizon for you? New projects, another movie, more TV?
JM: I am in total writing mode, writing my next feature which hopefully people will want to make. I feel super good about it and right now I am sitting on a cliff looking at the pacific ocean because I am going to go surfing after we talk. I gotta get my workout in early because I am going to spend the rest of the day drinking beer and whiskey all the way to two a.m. If I don’t get out and exercise right now I will be a fat flob in two months. Right now, I sent in a rough draft to my producer for Demon Inside, Timothy Talbott, you know he came back with hard critiques that is why I love him. He is super upfront and doesn’t hold any punches and then I am going back to figure that out.
WH: That is awesome, thank you so much for talking to me today and let me let you go so you can surf.
JM: Thank you, by the way I read the true history of The Town That Dreaded Sundown [that you wrote].
WH: Sweet! Thank you!
JM: Â It was awesome, I didn’t know how detailed and how prolific the whole story was. You watch my movie, [so] I figured I would read something of yours.
WH: That’s the longest one, you could have read the one about H.H. Holmes that would have been fine [laughs]
JM: I read that you did a Scream one, right?
WH: Yes, I do a lot of movie reviews and comic reviews but I am still in school for criminology and have a criminal justice background. So I try to do a lot of that kind of stuff. The Scream one was about the moral panic that came after scream and just like the whole couple murders after it and everyone gets their panties in a bunch about kids and horror movies.
JM: I definitely remember that and seeing that I had not read anything on Scream in a while. Scream was definitely a big influence for me. That was the movie where as a kid I was like oh shit, this could be a whole another level of genre-bending meta horror flick that was the first time I thought about making a horror movie.
WH: I believe it was the anniversary that everyone did one piece, January or December.
JM: It’s a cool thing that you pretty much did a lot about the bad influences that Scream had on people and now thinking of what I got from it, I was like I am going to make movies. But, other kids took it the wrong way.
WH: You took it down a different path, but I appreciate you reading, that is pretty cool.
JM: Yeah I like both of them and I now be a frequenter of Wicked Horror.
WH: Be sweet, thanks and be sure to send us your next movie. I was genuinely surprised this was your first movie because there was a lot of mistakes you didn’t make, some veterans [cough] in the field make. Oh is this your 5th movie, ok [laughs].
JM: I had lot of help, but young directors make that mistake, they think they have to be Robert Rodriguez and do everything. But I totally believe in the collaboration, I love ideas from everybody and from my producer and my actors and my friend Carlos. All together coming up with stuff and just figuring out how to make things great on the day with a low budget. That is the way to go about it. And I thank them, they are my reason.
WH: It really shows that you did your research, you did your homework, and it translated on the screen.
JM: I did a lot, but I did not enough to make it great everybody else was awesome. I just want to keep doing this, with those people constantly collaborating and making cool films.
WH: Thank you for joining me and have a good day.
Check out The Demon Inside, available now on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, Vudu, Xbox Live, and Playstation Network.