Carrie Set Visit: Kimberly Pierce Talks Pigs Blood, Prom and Remakes, in theaters this October
Last August, We were invited by Sony Pictures to cover their remake of Carrie. Every horror buff holds this film as a genre standard. Based on the first novel released by Stephen King and adapted for the screen by Director Brian De Palma, Carrie was a critical and commercial hit in 1976. It scored Oscar nominations for Sissy Spacek as Carrie, and Piper Laurie as her domineering, religious fanatic mother Margaret. The film also introduced audiences to a young John Travolta, Amy Irving, and Nancy Allen. Remaking a film of this caliber required an exceptional director and cast to bring a modern version of Carrie to a new audience. Director Kimberly Peirce, who rose to fame with the gripping Boys Don't Cry, was chosen to helm the ship. She cast the young, but seasoned actress Chloe Moretz as Carrie. Then brought in the magnificently talented Julianne Moore to play Margaret.
The 2013 version of Carrie is a more faithful adaptation of the Stephen King novel. Kimberly Peirce had nothing but respect and admiration for Brian De Palma's film. She didn't want to retread his story or attempt to make a "better" Carrie film. For inspiration, she went back to the source and followed the events as dictated in the novel. For you neophytes out there, Carrie White is an awkward, shy teenage girl being raised by her devout mother Margaret. Margaret shelters Carrie, but is oppressive in her religious indoctrination. Carrie, unschooled in matters of puberty has her first period, much to her horror, while showering with her classmates in the locker room. Tormented by the villainess Chris (Portia Doubleday), and taken pity by the beautiful Sue (Gabriella Wilde), Carrie's journey into womanhood also reveals her telekinetic powers. These powers are shown in their full potential after an awful practical joke at the hands of Chris and her boyfriend Billy (Alex Russell). Sue, to make up for her treatment of Carrie, engineered her to win the title of prom queen. She enlists her boyfriend Tommy (Ansel Elgort) to aid in the deception. They are unaware that Chris and Billy will drop a bucket of pig's blood unto Carrie at the prom. Setting into motion a vengeance that destroys everything and everyone in its path.
We arrive on set to see the climactic prom scene where the bucket of pig's blood is dropped unto Carrie. This scene is certainly one of the most famous in cinema history, so all of the fanboy writers, me included, were pumped to say the least. I'll go over that scene in detail, along with our interview of Chloe Moretz, in the second installment of this article. We were shown three complete sets that had been built on several sound stages in Toronto. The first was the eerie White house. Picture the most depressing, aged furniture imaginable, with creepy religious paraphernalia at every corner. This is primarily where the action takes place between Carrie and her mother, Margaret. The house is foreboding in that it has nothing colorful whatsoever. It screams oppression and religious fanatacism. The second set we saw was the girls locker room, where the infamous 'plug it up' scene takes place. Nothing too special here, the set is literally a representation of every generic locker room and shower that you'd find in any high school. The final set, and it certainly was impressively staged, was the prom banquet. Here you had a few dozen extras, all dressed up to go to the prom. The setting is the gym, dolled up to host the prom, so you had bleachers to the sides with various school posters and athletic banners hanging from the rafters. There is an elevated stage at center, with a screen on the right where a projection of the prom events are being shown in real time. The space in front of the stage has a camera set-up on a dolly that can be tracked right and left. The dining tables are set to the sides, so a camera mounted on a crane can be moved up and down to film every angle of the scene. This is the money shot for the film, so you can imagine beyond the extras and cast, every crewmember is on set and prepping to shoot this scene.
As we watched Kimberly Peirce prepare to stage the scene, the grips line the floor of the stage and court with plastic sheeting. They're planning to do several test shots of the pig blood drop before Chloe Moretz does it in full costume. This is where I pause to give mad props to the unsung stand-ins. These are the people that approximate the stars physically. They do the costume, lighting checks, and blocking with the filmmakers before actual filming of the actors take place. Unfortunately for these two, as the doubles for Carrie and Tommy, they had to be continuously dumped with the viscous, dark red liquid that was the pig's blood. This poor gal was covered in this goo while the test shots were done. They cleaned her up well after each take, but that couldn't have been fun. Watching the preparation for this scene, we are reminded just how much effort, people, and time it takes to get seconds of film. Kimberly Peirce was a master orchestrator as she set up the blocking for the scene. We had time to talk with her before and after the scene was filmed. She was extremely forthcoming with plot points and specific details. This is a spoiler free article, so those bits have been removed. I will say that this remake of Carrie is not really a remake at all. It's a literal adaptation of the classic novel. Anyone who has read the book, and if you haven't shame on you, knows just how much more happened that wasn't shown in the 1976 film. We'll get to see much more destruction and violence. Here is our interview with Director Kimberly Peirce below:
How do you keep people surprised or shocked in a remake?
Kimberly Peirce: That's a great question. It's always a challenge when you're telling a story that people know. There's two things, one is that you definitely have to have surprises and changes. You keep people interested. Take them down roads they weren't expecting. Keep them in suspense. But hopefully, if you do really good storytelling, if there is a familiarity, and you do it well enough; you feel the satisfaction of that anticipation given back to you. It's why when you look at comic book stories and origin stories, we're able to tell these stories over and over again. It hits something universal, something primal inside of us, so we yearn for that same story over and over. Told in a different form, and updated, and modernized.
How did you pitch your idea to remake this film?
Kimberly Peirce: When I first heard about the project, it's not that I was suspicious, but just not sure. I am friends with Brian De Palma. We hung out and became quite close. Not that we aren't now, but he's living in Europe. The idea came up. I thought, I love Brian, I love Brian's movie, I don't know why I would do it. Then I had some really exciting meetings with the studio. I picked up the book. My fiancé and I go to the Middle East every winter. She's from Turkey. I read it cover to cover three times. I read it when I was younger, but to read it as an adult. That thing is a page-turner, it's exciting, it's pure pop writing. I understood why they thought of me for this, because at first it wasn't so clear. These are issues that I've written about and filmed before. I love relationship stories. I don't want to call this a tragedy or say it's depressing, but it definitely has that kind of structure. I love the rise and fall of the small town. I love an ensemble cast. I love emotional violence and physical violence. As I read the book and the pages were turning, I felt so deeply in love with Carrie again. Regardless if there was another movie that I loved and respected, this was a story I wanted to make a movie about.
Kimberly Peirce: The second point is that I don't like to think of it as a remake. I like to say, what's our movie going to be? With all due to respect to Brian De Palma, because I love him. I saw an opportunity to do some different; not better or worse, just different. I feel that the book has a more expanded canvas. The characters are more fleshed out in the middle. What I saw in the book was a chance to develop Chris as a villain. Who is Chris? Why does she pick on this girl? Why does it escalate? What we build in, without giving it away, is that Sue is the first person that does something in that locker room. That sets off a chain reaction with the other girls. And it's period blood. Period blood is strange. If someone had period blood then touched you...oh my god, that's a really awkward moment. There's a reality that we were able to build upon and stage it. What I love about our Chris is that her life is getting totally effed up because of Carrie White. I made sure to make it that you really saw things through Chris's point of view. The same thing with Margaret White, she's an amazing character. She's always right. What does she say, don't go out there. The boys are going to come and they're going to want to lay you. Don't go out there. The people are going to make fun of you. They're going to judge you. That's the other thing from reading the book. Not only is Chris right in her own way, so is Margaret. That's how I look at characters. They are all right. In a great story, they are all right and have their own rationale. They all come at each other and that's when the explosion happens. The remake is just a make. Let's make a good movie.
Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek were nominated for Oscars. With Julianne Moore and Chloe Moretz here, is that relationship something you're going to explore further or deepen?
Kimberly Peirce: Yes, let's pay all our due respect to Brian De Palma and put him over here. We are not saying mine's deeper and mine's better. In reading the book, I fell in love with this mother-daughter story that is so profound. One of the reasons I love Chinatown, and what Brian De Palma was able to achieve, is what is a mother? A mother is someone who sacrifices themselves for a child. That's what Margaret is. She loves her daughter to no end. In the book she she's acting in love and protection for her daughter, but she does it in a way that sets in motion a series of events. That mother-child relationship is really at the heart of the movie. I would say it's the spine but I don't want to take away from Chris and Carrie, or Sue and Carrie. There's a huge opportunity with the relationships in the book. We've been able to take that story farther. We get into the town destruction and the house destruction. There are certain reasons back then that they couldn't do it. But because we can, it means we can tell that full arc of the story.
You've mentioned loving violence. Can you tell us how you approach the violence in this film? Is it R-rated?
Kimberly Peirce: Yes, the movie is R-rated. We've actually shot some of the violence. I like violence because I like looking at it. I like understanding emotional and physical violence and how they work with one another. We've already shot a lot of the house destruction. If you've read the book, Carrie causes stones to come down. The violence that comes is like from every great monster movie, like Frankenstein or The Terminator. It's emotional and physical. Carrie is operating on all of these levels. She's been forced to kill and she didn't want to.
So you're using her telekinesis more, like the character in the book. How has that helped the storytelling?
Kimberly Peirce: We are using it as it is in the book. So there's much more. Just like in the book, with the [period] blood, comes the power. At first she doesn't understand that she has them. Then, in the middle, she has them more and more; then starts to think she can use them, maybe even have fun with them. Then she realizes that she can hurt people and starts to refuse them. In the end, they leak out. I aimed to write more of an arc for those powers. It is like a superhero origin story, but the kind of superhero that Carrie is. But that's something I saw in the book, it was that middle part. You can complicate Sue, you can complicate Chris. You can complicate the powers and you can grow them. I think you get a full arc.
How gory is this film going to be? Is most of that done on set?
Kimberly Peirce: You try to do as much as you can on set, because practical is cool and practical looks great. Then reality comes in, and you look at it like my last movie, a war film (Stop Loss). My brother fought in Iraq and I did a ton of research. I made it documentary like, but at some point on set, you can use a real squib, with three hours of clean up and five shots, or you can have that blood explosion in post and get those five extra shots. It's not that you don't love practical or doing it old school, but in the end you have to tell a story. There a number of old school special effects here that are fantastic, but we also went digital. I don't think you'll be able to tell the difference and it helps the storytelling. You can do things you couldn't normally do. And when I look at the cut, it brings out the story. You have these characters in intimate settings, and you have the tools to expand the emotions. Spectacle if done right becomes practical.
The theme of bullying has become prescient these days. More so than it was in the seventies with the original, have you thought about how the violence in this film will relate to that?
Kimberly Peirce: I made a film about bullying in Boys Don't Cry. I am not unaware of it. And this does reflect a reality of that. But if this was only a bullying story, then I don't think there would be enough to make a movie about it. There is an authenticity and reality to what's happening. But Brian De Palma was ahead of his time. This movie is coming up when this stuff is happening, but the story itself is a fantasy story. It's a supernatural story. It's a superhero story. It's a thriller with horror elements.
The book is really brutal in its violence, but also its sexuality with Billy and Chris. How are you showing that in this version?
Kimberly Peirce: A lot more of that is in. I deal with a lot of sexuality and violence. The goal is never to be exploitative. How deep can you go? How much can you show, without crossing that line into exploitation. It's something I'm thinking about when I'm writing a script and when I'm filming. But sometimes in the filming, you go a little too far so you can find where that edge is. In the editing room I can pull it back. In Boys Don't Cry we did seven edits of the rape scene and just kept previewing it to audiences. There's the reality of what happened and then there's the movie reality. Eventually we got to a point where no one turned away. We hit that threshold of how much is enough to touch and affect them, but not so much that I lose them. You ask that question every day. You cross the line in order to come back from it.
Carrie is one of the iconic female roles in the horror genre. Can you talk about casting Chloe Moretz?
Kimberly Peirce: When I met her, she was very young; which was good for the role. She's age appropriate. It's about a high school girl. She's done mostly younger roles, but this is a role where she has to be a young adult, a young woman. I said to her that she would have to go through things she hadn't experienced yet. She hadn't been to prom. We need to set off a teenage rebellion. I said she had to move out of her house. We have someone who's moving into young womanhood. We're going to grow you into this role. So that you can revolt and rebel, so you can go against the adult figures in your life. There was a moment on set when I told her she was playing it a bit too old, her response was you told me to grow up. (laughs) Which I did, but for that scene, we dialed it a bit down. I'm really proud of here. I think she's transformed in this movie. Once Julianne Moore got here, what happened with her and Julianne was so intimate. We shot for three and a half weeks in the White house. We all lost track of time. There really is a relationship between mother and daughter.
Chloe Moretz as an actress seems so much more assured than Sissy Spacek was at that time. How did you deal with that?
Kimberly Peirce: It was a huge challenge. That's what I said when I first met her, we have to beat that little confident person out of you. You're walking red carpets, working with Tim Burton and Martin Scorsese. The world loves you. You have a family that loves you. That's great for you as an individual. But for this movie, we have to take all that confidence and personality, put it over here, and crack that. We have to make you sheltered, scared, a misfit, unusual. She's beaten by her mother. I had her go to a homeless shelter. I had her go deep into that characterization, to experience the fear, the humility, to really go on the journey. We did that here and in LA, always showing respect to those people. I wanted her to see the other part of life. That was essential to the character. That lack of confidence. It's everything.
So what was the kernel, that first thing you saw in her to cast her?
Kimberly Peirce: She had an inner sweetness and an inner charm. It's something I look for. I saw it in Hilary Swank. What I was looking for, particularly in Carrie, is a character that desperately needs love and acceptance. She needs that on the deepest level, as she's moving through the story, that's all she's looking for. Chloe Moretz has a huge amount of confidence, but she also has loveliness. You can see that flower throughout the movie.