Director William Brent Bell and screenwriter Matthew Peterman discuss The Devil Inside, the controversial ending, and the viral website for this indie horror tale
After the overwhelming success of the micro-budgeted Paranormal Activity franchise, Paramount Pictures set up an indie division called Paramount Insurge, which focuses on making low-budget films with budgets under $1 million. Their first title under this endeavor is The Devil Inside, which shattered box office expectations this weekend, opening with a massive $34.5 million from just a $1 million budget. I recently had the chance to speak with The Devil Inside director William Brent Bell and screenwriter Matthew Peterman over the phone to speak about their successful horror indie, its controversial ending, and much more. Here's what they had to say below.
That was quite an event on Thursday night. What did you guys think of it?
William Brent Bell: What theater were you in?
I was in the good one, where the actress came out.
William Brent Bell: Wasn't that great?
It was funny because we were in the other theater, and one of the Paramount reps told us we should go into the other theater, that there was a special surprise. When she popped up, it was great. We were all laughing. She's an actual contortionist, right?
William Brent Bell: Yeah, she is a contortionist and an actor.
Can you talk a bit about the casting process? When you were looking for Isabella and Maria, what kinds of things were you looking for, and what stuck out for you with Fernanda (Andrade) and Suzan (Crowley)
William Brent Bell: Well, Fernanda is very strong and very inquisitive. She just wants to know about everything, and that's perfect for her character. As far as Suzan goes, we saw a lot of women in her age range, and it's really hard for these women to be as open-minded and wild as she is. Nobody even came close to her. She's just completely uninhibited, and it was perfect. She was great to work with.
Matthew Peterman: This is a small movie and we didn't have to worry about people's fame or cache, it was just about getting the best people for the part.
William Brent Bell: We were making this film before a lot of these other faux documentary films were coming out, like The Last Exorcism and Paranormal Activity. We had written the film and we were in pre-production when Paranormal Activity was announced to come out. When it did come out, and it was such a big success, all of the sudden we started getting calls from everybody, and they wanted to put real successful actors and actresses in the film for free. That would ruin the concept of the movie, though, and it was pretty interesting that the producers were telling the agents no, we don't want them. We want undiscovered people who you don't have preconceived notions about.
That's really refreshing and surprising, actually. There has been a lot of talk on Twitter about the ending. I was wondering if you could maybe elaborate on that, and if you had other versions which you had tested? Or was that always the ending you were going for?
Matthew Peterman: We had a couple of endings that we were working on. Paramount did a really cool thing with that website (TheRossiFiles.com), to drive people to the website after the movie. We think it's pretty cool, and that's never really been done before, with the interactivity of that. Whether it works or not, we'll see. Some people like it, and some people don't, but as for the ending, and the abrupt nature of it, we played around with some stuff. But sometimes, in real life, and we tried to make this movie feel as real as possible, it doesn't follow a three-act structure like movies do. Things don't always end the way you expect them too, or they don't end at the right time, or happily, either. We just tried to make a pretty realistic ending. What's going on at the end of this film is very shocking, it's intense, and there's some evil going on, and it's not always going to happen the way you expect it to. We just wanted to make it as realistic as possible.
I didn't seem to mind the ending, although it seemed a lot of people hated it. Some even said there needed to be like 20 more minutes to the movie. Are you still confident with the ending, despite the negative reactions?
William Brent Bell: People seem to understand movies so much, they want something different. But, when they get something different, they don't like it. We all agreed, and Paramount and everybody, came to the conclusion to have the ending be this. We think it's pretty ballsy, even for Paramount, to stand behind that, but we're totally behind that. That website, we think it's a pretty interesting experiment. There's going to be a lot more on there that continues the story, even more than is on there now. It's a continuation of the story, and it will be up on there sooner than you think. Nobody is waiting for the DVD extras. We're going to show you a continuation of the story on that website very soon.
Matthew Peterman: We want the fans to love this movie. If people don't, and they cite the ending, or maybe if they did enjoy it but didn't enjoy the ending. We want the fans to enjoy the movie, for sure. We tried to do something unique and different.
Do you envision this this website as being an ongoing thing leading up to the DVD release? Will there be more content filtering in until the DVD comes out?
William Brent Bell: Paramount is really good in this kind of space. They work very quickly and very loose, and we like that, and most studios can't even consider doing that. When we have an idea, or they have an idea, it's implemented within days. We're going to just feel it out. We're going to continue to enhance the website, and it's almost like a sequel to the movie. If people are into it, we'll continue it, because we have a lot of stuff we can continue to tell the story with through that website. So, we'll see what happens.
Can you give us an idea of an average day on the set? Were you really under the gun as far as the shooting schedule?
William Brent Bell: It was interesting because we all wore so many hats during this production. It was crazy. I think we shot for 15 days in Romania, and three or four days in Rome, I believe. I wouldn't say there was an average day, you know. We had one night where it was snowing, and we had a night driving scene to do. Matt and I were out there with fire hoses, trying to knock the snow off the trees. At moments, it was total insanity, and there were moments where it was just partial insanity. The good thing is the three of us have been good friends for over a decade, and we were able to band together and really pull this thing out.
I liked that you guys actually went to Rome and shot those exteriors. People are starting to get an eye for places that are shot for different places, so it was cool to see Rome as Rome.
William Brent Bell: Yeah. Again, it was the search for authenticity that we tried to achieve throughout this film. Shooting in Rome was interesting. We were running around and trying to steal as many shots as we could. We didn't have any permits, we didn't have any locations, we didn't have anything. Everything we did there was completely guerilla style and under the radar.
That's even better. Is there anything you guys are both currently developing right now that you can talk about?
William Brent Bell: We have a couple of other things that are out there. We'll might be in pre-production, back in Romania shooting another film. We've got to figure out what's next. There are about four different projects, one is a bit in this space, another which is more horror, and a couple of others which are real, gritty thrillers.
Do you both envision yourselves sticking around in this genre for awhile, or do you plan on branching out to dramas or sci-fi or other genres like that?
William Brent Bell: We'll see. Definitely sci-fi. I mean, I don't see us doing anything more dramatic than The Devil Inside anytime soon. I think we're probably going to stay in this wheelhouse for awhile. We'll see. We don't know how long that's going to go on.
Finally, what would you like to say to anyone who might be on the fence about The Devil Inside about why they should check it out?
William Brent Bell: I think it's a really good film. It's disturbing, it makes you think, and if you're worried about the ending, we're not trying to rip off anybody. We're just trying to do something unique. I think if you look at it that way, and don't get too caught up in the marketing machine of it, I think you'll really like it. Sometimes, I think people get too caught up in that, and their expectations go through the roof, as to what they're going to see. What they will see is a really good film that will make you think and freak you out.
Especially if you go to a screening where someone pops up in the audience.
William Brent Bell: We're going to do that in every theater in the country! (Laughs)
That would be awesome.
William Brent Bell: Yeah, it would. But you were there, man. You're lucky.
Great, well that's my time. Thanks so much for talking to me today, guys. Best of luck with the movie.
William Brent Bell: Thanks, Brian.
Matthew Peterman: Thanks.