Screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes Talk THE CONJURING, Finding the Film’s Point of View, Real Life Paranormal Incidents and the Appeal of Horror

     June 29, 2013


Soon, horror-master James Wan (Insidious) will terrify audiences with his newest film, The Conjuring.  The story centers on Roger and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) who seek the expertise of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) when unexplained occurrences start plaguing their farmhouse.  Adapting the true-life story of the Warrens and Perrons were the screenwriting brothers Chad and Carey Hayes.

During our set visit, the Hayes brothers talked about finding the point of view for the film, watching Wan and the actors elevate every scene, getting to know Lorraine Warren, setting up a possible franchise and supernatural events that hit too close to home.  Hit the jump to read the interview with the Hayes brothers and be sure to check out our set visit recap here, plus interviews with James WanPatrick WilsonRon Livingston and Lili Taylor.  The Conjuring opens July 19th.

the-conjuring-vera-farmiga-patrick-wilson-lili-taylor-ron-livingstonQuestion: How far into the movie does this scene occur?

CHAD HAYES: They’re still a ways away from that first shot…it’s really neat. There has been some incredible stunts thus far. There’s a really cool shot of Lily – uh – Carolyn, coming to the front door where she’s fully processed and the witch inside her doesn’t let her go outside. So the witch inside her starts reacting and as soon as she hit the light – BOOM – she gets pulled – just – backwards all the way down a hallway. You guys haven’t seen that set yet. Then she flips and literally gets dragged around the corner, down the hallway and down into the cellar. And they did it in two separate stunt movies. And if you think that was cool, this lasts way longer than that.

Was that leading up to what we saw today? Was that part of the sequence?

CHAD: All part of the ending, yeah. Uh. It’s really. It’s interesting because the point of view of the film is Lorraine Warren is a clairvoyant, she sees things other people don’t see and so she literally can – we switch to her POV all the time, and it’s awesome because everyone else is looking around, like, ‘what’d she see?’ …I don’t want to give away too much, but she gets to see things that others don’t and we get to see it as an audience from her POV, it’s really neat.

Is there some stuff that you wrote that you thought: “Good luck trying to film that?”

CHAD: This is my brother Carey. 

CAREY HAYES: Hi guys. 

CHAD: This is Chad who has been talking. 

CAREY: Who will always talk. I’m Carey. 

CHAD: It’s funny you should ask because Carey wrote – at one point in the movie Lorraine turns around, she thinks she hears a noise, and walks out on to the second story landing an then – BOOM – the photographs and everything hanging on the stairwell wall just comes crashing down to the bottom of the stairs and a couple people came up to us and pointed out – you know, all that was was ‘the pictures fall off the wall.’ But it ended up taking a quarter of the day to shoot it, a lot of breakways, so…no, not really. We visualised that, it’s exactly what we thought which makes me say just on a general note, on this film, everything in this movie from a writer’s point of view has been elevated. Everyone has done their job, which is really exciting. Sometimes, when you’re in production you think: “Hmmm. I didn’t picture it that way,” but James really brought it up. All the actors brought it up. 

CAREY: In the writing process, when you’re writing and, like, delivering your child, and then ok: you get to babysit this kid, and you hope it’s in great hands and this has just been a great group of babysitters. It really has. It’s been an incredible experience. 

the-conjuring-vera-farmigaCHAD: We’re really excited about it. James, last weekend, put together a little two-and-a-half-minute, like “let me show you why you’ve been working so hard.” Everyone was out – we were out at the house on [Curry?], and literally everyone crowded into a small room with a huge screen monitor and you just – you went into it and it had rhythm and scares and that. it was very exciting. 

CAREY: Chad’s daughter came out with her boyfriend after everybody had seen it, so he goes, “James can we show them?” So we went into his trailer and he has, like, two chairs in front of his TV so as Chad’s daughter and her boyfriend, Tim. We’re standing right behind them and just looking at them react to that: “Oh my God!” It was classic. You see it so many times you get a little numb to it, but that was cool. 

Doing a project based on real characters, when you started was the current angle always the focal point?

CHAD: We switched it off, the – Peter Safran, through a management company, sent us a treatment for a story that was about the Perrons. And it was scary, but Carey and I were like: “We’ve sort of seen it.” The Warrens were mentioned, but just sort of as investigators, and we were familiar with them, and we went: “I wonder if we can switch the POV of this movie.” Because what scares the investigators is really interesting. 

CAREY: And plus they’re stepping into act three of their lives, so there’s already been all of that- 

CHAD: So we went back and said: If you can get the Warren’s rights, we’d be really interested in doing this movie, and they did. That was great. It felt very franchisable to us as well, you know they’ve done so many case files and – If you think about the Warrens, and this takes place in 1971 or two, these guys are at the top of their game. There weren’t any people you could go to to do all this, and this is right at the height, when The Exorcist came out, which was super reticent because people were, like, “Whoa, the church does that kind of thing?” It just all felt very compelling and a lot more interesting than “family buys the wrong house, drives up and it begins.” And we got a chance to tell family POVs, this is really about three families: the witch family, the Perrons and the Warrens, and this collision course they’re on. 

CAREY: And, of course, the other families that lived there. They were affected. The original farm was on, either 300 or 500 acres and when Bathsheba killed herself, she literally hung herself, but prior to that she proclaimed her love for Satan and cursed anyone who would try to take her land, and then, over that course of time from the late 1800s to the present there has been a phenomenal amount of deaths on what was once that 500 acres. 

the-conjuring-john-brotherton-patrick-wilson-vera-farmiga-ron-livingstonCHAD: Really unusual deaths, like you’d have a better chance winning the lottery than you would…

CAREY: In this film- 

What are some of them?

CHAD: You’ll see it in the movie, we put them in there. Drownings, suicides, hunting accidents. Car- 

CAREY: Car accidents, people lost in the winter-time. 

CHAD: Really odd. Very odd in such a small, small area. I guess the other thing that really drew us, which changed it over is that it’s a true story. To be able to look these people up, I mean, we met the Perron girls, these girls came to set. And you still see the scare in her eyes. 

CAREY: Which one…? We have the scene where…Cindy. The witch was actually hanging from a tree and we’re ready to shoot it and Cindy looks and freaks out and just turns the other way. 

CHAD: It brought back too much. And one of ‘em said: “Something really bad is going to happen out here today” and I was like: “Oh, great.” And do you know what happened? Her mother, Carolyn, fell and broke her hip. 

CAREY: She wasn’t there, she was the only one not there, but they all had to leave, it was pretty nutty. 

It’s clear that the Perrons, the Warrens and Bathsheba are still around, so how do you craft and end-point to this story.

CHAD: There is an end point. And what you’ll find out – and this isn’t giving away the end of our movie and what we’ve chosen to do – but in the supernatural world…in our movie Ed Warren says…um…they have an artifact room, they collect everything in their artifact room and a reporter asks: “Why don’t you just incinerate them and destroy these things?” and he says: “Then I’m just destroying the vessel.” It doesn’t mean that the spirits are gone or won’t return. So to answer your question: Are they gone? You can exorcise something from you, but can it take over someone else? As far as the narrative, it will always be from the Warren’s POV. 

CAREY: They came to a pinnacle in their life because of this, you know? Because they got hurt and – Wow – we have to make a decision here, because things got stirred up. It’s sort of like a Police Officer who got shot at. Are you nervous or do you hit it harder. It’s really neat taling to Lorraine [Warren], she just talks about – she often gets asked “Why?” and it’s because they have this ability to help people. They don’t charge a thing to help people, but they’ve helped tons of people. 

the-conjuring-vera-farmigaCHAD: Thousands of cases, actually. 

CAREY: Clearly in all of our research, there’s an ongoing battle between good and evil and you gotta have people helping other people – I guess that’s why there are so many paranormal shows on. It’s a fascinating subject for a lot of people. Lots of trippy stories. 

Any other files you guys are looking at for a sequel?

BOTH: Yeah.

Anything you want to-?

CHAD: You know, not yet. I mean, there are thousands of cases that they were on. They went all over the world. What interests us is, possibly – not that we would get the approval to do this – but to do something in a foreign land. They went to the Eastern Block countries, they went to England and Ireland. There are a couple famous cases, there’s an [Endsfield] case that got a lot of attention where – what’s it called? – dematerialization. Where someone literally disappears from a room and reappears somewhere else, and they have photographs that we’ve seen of a girl who would literally disappear from their house and they’d end up having to dig her out of a wall. No way in, nothing like that. When you see footage of stuff like that-? There’s a case that we use in the film, a case they were on with this guy Maurice, and we recreated this in the movie and it’s fantastic. 

CAREY: It was a guy who was possessed twice. 

CHAD: Twice. He had a third grade education, he spoke perfect latin backwards. We’ve seen the footage of this that Ed had and when you watch the footage – it’s not meant for anyone, it’s for their own archives – and they pull up his shirt and his skin…these upside-down crosses appear on his skin and you just hear him babbling in latin. And we researched this guy and this guy was a dairy farmer, right? In the middle of frickin’ nowhere, no Latin exposure whatsoever, but they discovered he was speaking it backwards. And he had tears of blood that come down on his shirt, and we asked Lorraine: “Is that Maurice’s blood?” and she says “No, honey. The spirits can manifest it. They can manifest things out of their own will.” 

CAREY: Stigmata type stuff. 

CHAD: It’s crazy. We talked to her for years this stuff.

When writing this, were you ever worried you’d bring some of this on yourself?

CHAD: Hell yes! Lorraine helped Carey. Carey had an issue at his house… We don’t write things unless we can get scared from ‘em. So the world that you really dig into is really really trippy. I don’t know if you want to tell the story of what happened… 

the-conjuring-vera-farmiga-7CAREY: Yeah, sure. We’d been out here for four weeks, and my wife called me and said… Here’s the interesting thing. When things happen, it usually happens to a wife, or a woman at home, whose husband is gone. She experiences more. He doesn’t really believe it because he’s not there. It doesn’t make sense. It starts to cause little problems… But my wife and I have been married twenty-one years. We know each other very well. But she called me and said, “Alright, this is really kind of crazy…” And she sent me a picture of this strange water formation that just kind of appeared on the floor. We have cement floors and it’s just all open floor plan. Now in my mind, we have an old dog. She’s got bladder issues. You gotta take her out. “Who didn’t take her out?” “No, no, no. We took her out.” My wife literally cleans it up with like three huge beach towels. And it didn’t stink or smell. She rinses it out literally in the sink. She thought it was the dog. But the dog’s in its bed. And there’s another one in literally the exact same place. So it’s like, okay, this is a little weird. And it happened two more times in that approximate same spot. I called Lorraine, and said, “Alright, you got to tune into something here. There’s something going on.” First thing she asks is “Do you have any adolescents in your house?” “Three teenage boys, yes.” “Is there any angst going on?” “Yeah, the youngest one’s fifteen going through crazy stuff.” She goes, “Well, a water poltergeist will feed on the energy of an adolescent. That’s usually when it materializes. Does it happen after an uprising?” I asked my wife and she said, “Yeah, he was really upset the other night. Some things went down with some friends.” So he happened to come out here with my wife and my other son. And we had a friend stay at the house and it happened again. We happened to be out to dinner with Lorraine. My fifteen year old thought he was bringing this on the house. He was a little flipped out. And she looks at him and goes, “Oh honey it’s not you.” He goes, “Thank God.” But it stopped. It hasn’t happened since. 

But you have to have a pretty good faith in protecting yourself, because when you write about stuff like this you can be somewhat of a beacon. But in our movies, like The Reaping and this movie, it’s like, faith prevails. The strength of divine intervention. So I don’t worry too much about that at all. Unless something freaky happens to me, and nothing has. [Laughs.] 

One of the producers threw out the term “fun romp.” Is there any sort of humor at all in what you’ve put together or is it really intense?

CHAD: Oh no. You have really great light moments. We’ve been asked that question before and it’s really good. But the purpose in writing these films… We approach them like a roller coaster. What we do is you go to that park, you see that ride. You know you’re going to be safe, but you’re going to have these moments of “Oh my God!” So in our mind you hop in and you go up to your first hill and then – whoosh! – straight down to a left turn and a right turn. But even on a roller coaster you need a moment to kind of get it back or you won’t be scared again. It’s like you have to. When tension is so rife, and then it blows away, and then you try to rebuild it. So we try to do that through fun moments with the family and the girls. 

the-conjuring-lili-taylorCAREY: But you have to play on the fact that Ed Warren had a great sense of humor, and he liked to, when they were investigating, break tension by making light of things. And people would laugh because you’ve just seen something really weird and he cracks a joke. Patrick and Vera have that in their chemistry. It really works. We shot a scene with chickens yesterday, and it’s funny. It’s great. 

CHAD: Because Lorraine has chickens in real life.

At what point in the process of writing it did you start working with Lorraine?

CHAD: In the very beginning. More than a couple of years ago. 

CAREY: It was great because we got to meet her for the first time on set. And it felt like we had known her for so long. It was a really happy moment for us. 

CHAD: She and her son-in-law came down and spent four days or so here. And that woman never got tired. She’s just a pro. She’s eighty-five years old. And in our process of interviewing her we would spend hours on the phone. And she was so cute, because she would say, “Wait, give me a little bit of notice before you call, because I just want to get all comfortable in my bed and get my tea.” She wanted to chat. [Laughs.] We talked for three hours once. 

CAREY: A couple of things happened talking to her. Once when we were talking to her about Maurice and we asked her a question it was the first time we were talking to her that she lost her train of thought, she said, “Wait! Ask me that question again. Ask me with conviction. Please. There’s interference going on. Something doesn’t want this information out.” We got chills. “Okay, we don’t have to talk about it.” Then it happened a second time when we were talking about Bathsheba. 

CHAD: She lives with a priest. A priest lives in her guest house and performs mass every day at her house. That’s how she stays protected. Which is kind of cool.

What’s so appealing about scaring people?

CHAD: For me it’s the satisfaction of making somebody laugh. It’s like, “I gotcha to jump!” 

CAREY: For us it’s sort of an endorphin rush. This is what I love about scary movies – you’re in a safe theater. So nothing’s going to happen to you. You get to really experience it without… I’m sure we’ve all been in a situation where we’ve said, “I shouldn’t be here right now. This is not a a good choice.” That’s scary, because it has real ramifications if something bad happens. Here you’re in the safety net. It’s fun to experience that. You write for a very specific group of people, and people who really enjoy being scared. When you accomplish that, it’s very satisfying as a writer. 

the-conjuring-patrick-wilson-vera-farmigaCHAD: I also think it’s like… New Line told us, “Okay, we’re gonna go after one director.” We’re like, “Okay, who’s that?” And when they said James it was like “Okay.” We couldn’t think of anyone that we would rather go to. So we were like, “Please like the script.” Because he does Saw and then he does Insidious. And ours is more like the thriller aspect of the story. There’s an investigation. Rather than just like Saw. So that was over the top fun, and that made it really special for us as well. Because we write way more thriller-esque things than we do the really bloody stuff. We’ve only really done one.

Which one?

CAREY: Paris got a pole in her head. [Laughs.] 

CHAD: Yeah we cut tendons and fingers and stuff in that one.

How is it writing horror? Is it hard to get a scary feeling from just words on a page?

CHAD: I don’t mean to contradict you, but I have been on set and looked and something and gone… Joe Bishara in makeup – he’s the nicest you’ve ever met, our composer, but when we first saw him as the witch it freaked me out a little bit. Because it’s kind of like women in burkas – you don’t really see who it is behind there and what’s happening, and there’s an ominousness. That’s kind of the rare example. 

The actress who plays the middle daughter, Joey King, there’s a scene in the movie where she gets messed with. And she looks up and she’s staring across the room at a door that’s slightly ajar and there’s this darkness behind it. She’s trying to wake up her sister but she’s so scared. We’re watching tears coming down this young actress’s face. I started looking at the monitor thinking they put something in there. She was so freaking good and convincing. She got a standing ovation from everybody. There was like fifty different takes and different camera angles. Brought it every single time. She looked horrified. I thought James had put the witch behind the door. Funny story. 

CAREY: We also say to our kids, “Would you be scared if…” 

CHAD: We test it out that way. Before we write a movie we work it all out in our heads. This was sold as a pitch. The way we sell most of our films is through pitches. So we kind of work it all out like it’s already a movie. People will go, “Wow. I feel like you’ve already written that film.” So we rehearse it a little bit so we know what people will react to. That’s when we get a sense. They kind of get uncomfortable and move in their chair or get wide-eyed. We go crazy. When we pitch things we bring in sound effects and visual aids. All that kind of stuff to give people a sense of what we’re really looking for.

the-conjuring-patrick-wilson-vera-farmiga-3You said you had a funny story…

CAREY: Oh, my son Connor is nineteen and this is his first movie he’s worked on. So when Joe Bishara is dressed in makeup the first time somebody heard my son say jokingly, “Ah, I used to date a girl that looked like that.” So he goes into the bathroom and he comes out and they got Joe and he walked out and goes, “Waah!” My kid screamed like a six-year-old girl and jumped ten feet back. And he was the brunt of every joke. So he’ll learn to keep his mouth shut. [Laughs.] 

What’s he doing on set?

CAREY: He’s working props. 

CHAD: Yeah, both our boys are working on their first film. My son Dylan is working in the camera department. It’s been great. 

CAREY: Yeah, it’s sad to come to an end. It’s been a couple of nice months of working together. Just seeing things from a different perspective. “Oh this is what you do!” 


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