The opening of The Last Exorcism this weekend (read my review here) marks the first theatrically released movie for German-born and American Film Institute-trained filmmaker Daniel Stamm. Screen Junkies sat down with Stamm to talk about being hired by Eli Roth, working in the horror genre, and who is he aspires to work with one day.
Screen Junkies: How did you get involved with this project?
Daniel Stamm: The original writers (Huck Bato and Andrew Gurland) were going to direct this movie but then they committed to another movie. A friend of mine who was working at Strike Productions heard they were looking for a new director and gave them a copy of my first film, A Necessary Death. They saw it and said hat they wanted that movie in exact same style but in a horror script…they asked me,“Can I do a horror script?” I said, “I don’t know” but here we are now.
SJ: What was it like working with Eli Roth?
DS: Breathtaking, quite frankly. It was very fortunate to have a producer that is also a writer and director. He has been in your shoes and knows about the intense panic that comes with it. When I wanted to try something in the editing room, he encouraged me to try things out but also knew from his experience how scenes would work and how they would not work within this type of genre. Eli is filled with such enthusiasm that he can walk into a room with a group of people that have a certain opinion or fact, then leave with them thinking the other way around.
SJ: What was the major challenge of making a possession movie and being compared to The Exorcist?
DS: I thought at first, it was going to be a major challenge. You can’t go up against The Exorcist, so I watched every possession movie possible from The Exorcist to Exorcism of Emily Rose, which was still pretty fresh in audiences’ minds and we even had a real exorcist on the set. The thing is about this movie is set in reality not about the special effects and make-up. It’s more of a question of is this girl really possessed or just crazy?
SJ: How was it working within the docudrama style?
Stamm: A Necessary Death used that style of filmmaking and from that 3-year project it got me this job with The Last Exorcism. Though I do love that style, I want to get away from it now because I don’t want to labeled as that ‘documentary guy’. People already come up to me and tell me, “You have this background in documentary filmmaking’, yet I’ve never made a documentary before.
SJ: What excites you about the horror genre for being a non-horror genre filmmaker?
DS: It’s the most cinematic genre you can work in, it’s all about lights and shadows and sound and music. It’s so visceral too, where it is the most democratic and non-judgmental genre that can hit anybody from the theology professor to a punk or surfer. Society reacts to fear and terror in the same way.
SJ: What was your experience with working on a PG-13 style horror movie?
DS: We never shot for a PG-13, never mentioned once about what rating it would get, they just said to me make the most scariest movie possible. I assumed and they assumed that it would be R but now it makes sense because the movie isn’t based in any type of gore and the story takes place on a very religious farm where characters wouldn’t say ‘fuck’ a lot.
SJ: If you weren’t a filmmaker, what would you be doing?
DS: An assassin…(laughs) probably a musician in the style of Nick Cave-ish stuff. If I could make it as a singer/songwriter I would give up all this filmmaking business.
SJ: What are some of your upcoming projects?
DS: I’m very excited for what my next project will be, yet the deal is about to be signed, so unfortunately I cannot really talk about it. But I can say this that it is a psychological-supernatural-thriller with a twist and that I’ll be working with my favorite filmmaker in the world on it.
SJ: Who is your favorite filmmaker?
DS: Lars Von Trier is one of my favorite filmmakers, I’ve not seen Antichrist yet but even his non-horror stuff like Dancer in the Dark, Breaking the Waves, and even The Idiots are so terrifying and compelling but Von Tier is not the person I’m going to be working with soon. I know you want to know who the big ‘Mr. X ‘ is. He is a lot like Von Trier in that he is one of the few writer and directors around telling original stories, and some of those have gotten him crucified lately.