In a lonely farmhouse, during a more desolate time, the secrets of a doll possessed by evil will be uncovered by a group of orphans. Thankfully, we didn’t have to go further than the Warner Bros. lot in Los Angeles to discover the innards of this house. It’s a hot afternoon in July as a group of journalists gather on the set of Annabelle: Creation. While location shoots and blue screens have their place in horror, the second Annabelle focused follow up to the Conjuring is an incredibly traditional practical affair.
Annabelle: Creation takes viewers back to the origins of the carved doll that captured audiences imaginations in the opening moments of The Conjuring. Last summer’s sleeper horror hit Lights Out may not have made David Sandberg a household name yet, but it definitely caught the attention of horror fans both in and out of the industry. Sandberg was quickly offered the role after New Line was impressed with what he had done on the Teresa Palmer starring thriller based on his own short. Sandberg recalled, “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!” Also it was just like of course, I loved the script and it was like a period movie, in an orphanage, and we were gonna be shooting in a studio, so it was perfect.”
When asked if he was their first choice, Conjuring and Annabelle producer Peter Safran says it was Sandberg’s contagious love of horror that made him the perfect choice. The producer explained. “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.”
Asked about how he sees Sandberg growing as a filmmaker, his producers find him to be a methodical and capable director. Safran continued, “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.”
Sandberg however is just more relaxed as far as he can tell. “To me, it’s a lot less pressure because it’s not my first, like 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. 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 did 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, like 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.”
The film’s young cast appreciates the flexibility that David brings to the movie. Grace Fulton stars as the eldest orphan in the film and talks about how the director approached a scene with open eyes, “But something about David is, every single time we film a scene, it’s written a certain way. We have the structure, and we come into the scene, I call it David’s extra 10 percent, sometimes it’s 50 percent he adds to it. Whether it’s a comedy dynamic… He’s really good with this dance almost, you know, the scene will be written one way where I’m doing one thing, and he’ll say, could you maybe make the audience uncomfortable? And I’m like, oh, alright. Like with this line, this one line. And I’m like, okay. I love that, I love how he kind of does phrasing and shading if that makes sense. He’s very visual as everyone will describe him. They described him to me that way when I auditioned, they described him that way to me when I got the call back, they said he’s very visual and he really responded to you. I’m like, I’m glad I wasn’t invisible [Laughing]. He’s got this air of comedy and he just ups the stakes every single time we film a scene. Somehow. And it leaves me sort of like, alright, okay.”
As with much of the growing Conjuring universe films, Annabelle: Creation is relying on more than just scares to reel in the audience’s fear, but genuine protective instincts for young protagonists in their battle with supernatural forces. The director disclosed as much when he said, “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. 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 girl with the stunts to which David is referring is Lulu Wilson. The young actress will portray Linda, the protagonist that finds herself locked into a struggle with an entity that’s taken root in the house thanks to Annabelle. On our visit, one of the few scenes we saw come together was Linda traversing a dumbwaiter, while something gave chase at her feet. After the scene we asked he about her stunt work. We were surprised to find a seasoned professional. “My favorite part is the stunts. And my least favorite part is the auditioning, actually, because you’re kind of like, can you guys just get it already. On my last horror film, Ouija Origin of Evil, I did all my own stunts, which was really fun. They gave me one stunt, and they were like, if you do this good, and it’s not that dangerous and if you feel ok about it, then you can do the rest of them, and I was like, ok, so I did it, and they thought it was pretty good, so then I just started doing all of them.”
It would appear that David and his cast are a perfect match. He’s enthusiastic about the young professionals he’s surrounded himself with. “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”. Yeah like in real life, I’m not a fan of kids myself, but like, I love working with them, because they’re great. I mean they also haven’t been spoiled by Hollywood yet so they give it their all and they’re happy.”
Stay tuned for more from our visit to the set of Annabelle: Creation, coming to theaters August 11th.