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Interview with Scott Derrickson (Writer and Director) of  The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
In theaters 09-09-05.
by Matt Mungle

Mungle: In talking to people about the movie and the excitement of it coming out this weekend, what do you think is the fascination with films like this that have to deal with possession and the questions that arise from that?

Derrickson: I think people are fascinated by anything that frightens them, and I think that people are particularly fascinated to explore things that scare them through movies because itís a way to look at those things or face up to those things in a very safe environment.  As far as this particular subject of demon possession and exorcism and that sort of thing, I think people have a unique interest in this because so many of those people either think or suspect that itís a real thing, a real phenomenon, or open minded at least to believe that itís a real phenomenon, and that makes it a compelling subject and itís also one, frankly, that thereís just not a lot of public knowledge floating around out there about it, unless you really have studied it in the theological sense, thereís not much opportunity to think about this subject and yet it is interesting. Exorcisms do happen out in the world and I think people are interested to know a little bit about it.

Mungle: You have a minor in theological studies, right?

Derrickson: I do

Mungle: Did that help? I assume it did going into this and kind of knowing how to separate movie from the truth.

Derrickson: Yeah, most definitely. I went to Biola University and when I was there, I had read a good number of books on the subject of spiritual warfare and the demonic and this sort of thing. I really did a lot of research before writing the screenplay, though.  I probably read maybe two dozen books on possession and exorcism and deliverance from a variety of perspectives.  I read Protestant writers and I read Catholic writers.  I read psychiatrists, both those who believed in possession and those that didnít.  I really wanted to understand the subject as well as I  possibly could because the goal with this movie was to not create an over-the-top exorcism film.  I certainly wasnít going to try to top The Exorcist thatís probably the most outrageous shock value movie ever made.  What I really wanted to do was try to portray this thing thatís something much more real and to portray it in a more realistic fashion.

Mungle: Right, and you almost have to, being based on true events. Thereís evidence that this took place because it was a real event, so that has to add more elements and like you said, not just making another Exorcist but, almost telling this story from the legal aspect as well.

Derrickson: Thatís exactly right. And that was where the whole idea of taking the realistic approach came from. It was the research into the case that the movie is based upon but, also on top of the books that I read, Iíve seen video tapes of real exorcisms and deliverance sessions and Iíve heard audio tapes and find those documentations of real cases to be every bit as frightening as anything you would see in a movie like The Exorcist but itís just not that over-the-top.  But itís just as frightening. It can be just as chilling and I don'tí know.. I think itís a subject matter that deserves treatment, if for no other reason the fact thatís itís such a prevalent topic in the gospels.  There were so many stories throughout the whole new testament of cases of demon possession and the way that Christ in particular responded to them.  This is a subject that seems to be important enough to have made the cannons of scripture.  Youíve got to have some willingness to venture into that territory and grapple with stories in the modern era that deal with the same thing.
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Mungle: Right. But, I wonder where the line is, though, because this is also something that the Bible is very clear that you donít just walk into and start messing with.

Derrickson: I do agree with that. Youíve got to be careful when you are dealing with this subject matter, You know, the Bible says have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness but, rather expose them and I think that tendency with things like this it to stay away from them.  I think C.S. Lewis really had the balance down well in his forward to the Screwtape Letters.  He talked about how there are two dangers when dealing with or thinking about, or in his case writing about, the demonic.  And he said that one dangerous extreme is to be unusually afraid or unusually unwilling to think about the subject or deal with the subject. And the other one was to become unhealthily interested.  And I think that both of those are real dangers. And for me, for example, in the making of this movie, once I started researching it and certainly through the writing and directing of it, during that time I didnít watch any other horror films. Once I started making the movie, I didnít read any other books about the subject and I tried to in my personal life just kind of keep a healthy balance of much more bright and positive material coming in. Itís a difficult thing but, itís something that at least for person like me certainly seemed like the right thing to do

Mungle: I guess if you definitely have a passion for it and thereís something that you feel compelled to write about. And that was another concern I was thinking about I canít imagine having to study this and research this and film this in the dailies. I Ďd get home everyday just scared to death!

Derrickson: I didnít feel that during the screen writing or even during the making of the movie because, thatís creativity and itís so. You get so caught up in the difficulty of making something work dramatically that itís almost like the subject matter itís self, you donít feel it so much. During the research phase of this though, it was incredibly oppressive. I wonít do that again. I would never tackle the subject matter a second time. I think just because that research phase of reading all those books and watching those video tapes, it definitely got my head into a very place that I, again, I felt like it was what I was meant to do and Iím glad that I did it and I think that it was necessary for the creation of a smart and truthful movie. But yeah, that was definitely not fun. And like I said, I donít want to do it again.

Mungle: So your next project is going to be about flowers and puppies.

Derrickson-laughing: Yeah! Iím definitely going to move onto some brighter territory.

Mungle: Now, this is interesting too, because this is probably, as I can recall, the first film thatís been a legal horror movie. You have legal suspense movies, but, never combined the intense horror with the legal drama.  What was the balance there? How did you decide whether to make it more legal or horror. Where did that come from?

Derrickson: Well, that was the original thing that interested me about the project, that when I heard about the true case and heard that this girl had died after a series of exorcisms and the priest was prosecuted for negligent homicide, I just thought, well, those are two great move genres--courtroom drama and horror--and I had never seen them put together and that was the challenge and that was what first made me think that this could be an interesting thing to pursue as a movie. The process of actually putting them together.  What I found is, that youíve go to stay true to rhythms of a suspenseful film, which is the audience wants the rising and falling of sort of scariness and tension and then you get relief.  And I tried to keep the movie structured like that so that people who are paying their money to have a good scare, theyíre going to get it in this movie. But, rather than returning from those scenes to scenes of people talking in their apartments or in coffee shops, we usually returned to a courtroom where people are discussing what the audience just saw. The higher ambition of the movie, I think, is to just get the audience to ask the same questions that the jury is asking throughout the trial. And those have to do with spiritual realities. Does the spiritual realm really exist? Is there such a thing as the demonic, and is there a devil and therefore is there a God and if so what are the implications.  I very much wanted to make a movie that was going to put those kind of questions into peopleís minds...

Mungle: And in a movie that doesnít necessarily answer those outright but, allows people to go away and seek the answers for themselves.

Derrickson: That was definitely the ambition.  That was the goal of the picture. Because you know, I think itís a place where Christians in the creative process really fail. I think that we have an unfortunate instinct to push our own perspective and our own agenda in a way that causes the audience or the case of screenplays and books that causes the readers to resist it.  Nobody wants to be preached at by a movie.  Even if the message thatís being preached is one that you agree with.  Seeing that come through a movie is always a little distasteful and this was a movie and subject that I thought was really good for not providing those metaphysical answers and getting any audience to ask the right questions.

Mungle: I think it will do that.  I think even movies that are made for entertainment purposes. I think there should be something at the end that makes you think about either your life or the life around you and gets you to kind of open yourself up to say, "OK, what am I doing with what Iím doing and how do I perceive these other things."

Derrickson: Itís very encouraging for me. I've read a few things online from people whoíve seen the film and just talked about how for the first time in years something made them rethink their agnosticism and sort of just think about these very basic spiritual questions in a way that they hadn't in a long time.  And like I said, I donít want to try to propagate my own point of view or try to persuade people to think the way I do but I truly believe that those very basic questions.. Is there a spiritual realm?  Is there a devil? Is there a God?  Everyone must answer those questions.   

Everyone must think deeply about those questions because the way we live our lives depends on how we answer them.

Mungle: I agree. Going back to the making of the movie did you have a chance to hear the original exorcism tapes.

Derrickson: I did.

Mungle: Dude! I canít even imagine first of all listening to that but, at the same time from a creative aspect, was there a thought process to use those in the actual audio of the movie.  Was that even an option?

Derrickson: Well, no, I never wanted to do that.  I thought it would be a bit exploitive and itís also, frankly, hearing real audio tapes of a real exorcisms. I've heard quite a few of them, and I donít know.. there was something about them that does feel... You talk about something that does feel a little dangerous, that feels a bit dangerous to me.  I personally wouldnít feel comfortable with putting the voices of actually demons into a movie.  Iím not saying that no one should ever do it but, that was just something that I didnít want to do. Everything you hear in the movie is all dramatic creation.

Mungle: Did you have a chance to meet the real personís family at all? Or talk to them about the movie?

Derrickson: Hereís the thing youíve got to realize with this movie.  Itís being marketed pretty heavily as a true story but, I donít want to say thatís misleading but, I will say that there is great range within Hollywood of what that means.  Thereís the true story like, Ray, which is what is called a "biopic," when you really are trying to recreate the historical events as they happened and to try to give people a real full understanding of the actual history of a person or an event. This movie is not a true story in that respect.  It is based on a true story.  The true story being that there was a girl who was recognized by the catholic church as being possessed.  And they authorized her exorcism and after a series of  exorcism, the girl died.  The priests involved with it were subsequently arrested and prosecuted for negligent homicide and the verdict in that trial is the same verdict that we have in the movie.  Other than that, much of whatís in there, if not most of whatís in there, is fictionalized. The characters are fictionalized. Laura Linneyís character (sheís the defense attorney) is almost an entirely fictionalized character.  Thatís of course why almost all the names are different and place and times are different.  

It really is based on that story, it is not a retelling of that story.

Mungle: So itís almost safer to say itís inspired maybe more that based?

Derrickson: Well those kinds of words and what words got chosen are things that marketing people labor over and they have their own criteria I suppose for making those decisions.

Mungle: There you go.  A little off the subject, I read somewhere where wrote an essay, ďA filmmaker's attempt to reconcile artistic ambition with his duty as a man of faith.Ē That excites me to hear somebody say that, because I would love to see more people of faith and more Christians get involved in filmmaking, in the arts, in the entertainment process.

Derrickson: I do too.  I think thatís where we certainly belong, in that work environment, as we belong in any other work environment.  I really have come to believe that maintaining obviously personal integrity and obtaining a dutiful relationship with God is every Christian's responsibility and I fail as many people do fail. I try to be devout.  But, I think when it comes to the integration of faith and cinema and being a christian in Hollywood, the thing that I have found to be missing, to be honest with you, from many of the Christians that want to be in Hollywood, is that they just donít work hard enough at being good filmmakers.  Itís a very competitive business.  Getting into the major roles of being a major screenwriter or director or a producer of major Hollywood features is similar to getting into the NBA.  There are not many people who get to do it and the people who do get into do it are the people who really take the work itself very seriously and love movies and become excellent at what they do. For me, thatís a big part of my conviction is that as a Christian, what Iím called to do is excellence.  Iím required to do my job to the very best of my abilities.  I am required to service my employer well.  I am required to be disciplined and not just for the praise of people but to the glory of God; do the very best work that I can do but, unfortunately at least, historically, I think a lot of Christians have just wanted the social power of Hollywood.  Theyíve wanted the cultural impact that movies can have but, they havenít loved movies enough to really fall in love with the medium and really be good at writing and directing them .

Mungle: And you canít forsake the art.

Derrickson: You canít forsake the art. The art in itself  is inherently glorifying to God.  I think God gave us movies, just as God gave us paints, and words to write plays and books with, and itís something that we ought to celebrate by treating them with respect and trying to become very good at making them.

Mungle: Just like anything else.  Well, Scott we wish you the best, I know itís opening this weekend and I appreciate your time and like I said, thanks for your passion and hope it all turns out well

Derrickson: My pleasure, thanks for the call.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose -
Rated PG-13 for thematic material, including intense/frightening sequences and disturbing images.

MP3
http://www.mungleshow.com/scott_derrickson.mp3
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
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