Director Darren Lynn Bousman talks 11-11-11, the insane supernatural happenings on the set, Mother's Day, The Barrens, and much more.
Director Darren Lynn Bousman burst onto the horror scene in 2005 with Saw II, which lead to the subsequent sequels Saw III and Saw IV. After leaving Jigsaw behind, the director made one of his passion projects, Repo! the Genetic Opera!, based on his 2006 short of the same name. The filmmaker is back with 11-11-11, which hits theaters nationwide on, of course, 11/11/11, i.e. November 11. The movie centers on an American man visiting Spain, who delves into the mysterious conspiracy of 11-11-11, when Heaven's 11th gate will reportedly open. I recently had the chance to speak with Darren Lynn Bousman over the phone about this horror tale, and here's what he had to say below.
How long has this idea been brewing in your head for, and when did you first start writing this crazy concept revolving around the number 11?
Darren Lynn Bousman: You know what's crazy, it wasn't long. In fact, last year at this time. This whole thing came about very, very quickly. It was kind of serendipitous how the whole thing came together. I was on a general meeting for another producer, and the conversation ended with him saying, 'If anything comes up, we'll give you a shout.' That, to me, is a classic blow-off response, like, 'OK, that's the last I'm ever going to hear from this guy.' 24 hours later, I get a phone call back from him, and he said, 'Hey, can you meet for lunch this afternoon?' That never happens, where you meet someone and the next day, they go, 'Come meet me.' So I go to meet him and one of his friends, who had this idea for a movie called 11-11. He didn't have a script or anything, he just had an idea. He pitched me the idea, and my first thought was I didn't want to do a numerology movie. The Number 23 had come out, and I was kind of over the idea and I turned it down. He said to me, at the very end of lunch, a very nice producer, he said, 'Do me a favor. Go home and sit on it, think about it, and come back to me. If you still don't want to do it, I'll completely leave you alone.' So, I went home and as I was sitting there, I did start to see 11-11, every time I looked at the clock or my watch. Then I started realizing, for instance, my birthday is January 11, 1979. When I write my birth date on a contract, it's 01-11-1979, which comes out to 11-11. That lead into researching, and I took another meeting with him and he said, 'Let me pitch you the end of the movie.' I said, 'Wait, what's the beginning of the movie?' He said, 'I don't care about the beginning, let me tell you about the end.' So he told me the end of the movie and, immediately, I said, 'That's it. I'm in.' We kind of worked backwards. We knew what the end was, and we had to work back to get to what the beginning was. Then, about three weeks later, I had a script. I drove to Santa Fe with my wife - I love Santa Fe - and three weeks later, i had a script. I sent it to him, and maybe two months later, I was on a plane to Barcelona to film it. The whole thing came together pretty quickly. I was in Barcelona for four or five weeks to shoot the movie, and right now, we're in the middle of doing the final mix on it. It was a very, very quick thing, but it all started off the end of an idea, someone pitching me the movie, and it worked from there.
Was the 11-11-11 release date always a part of the plan as well?
Darren Lynn Bousman: Yeah. When you have a movie called 11-11-11, about that phenomena, you know it only comes around once in your lifetime, so you have to try and make it. Now, the thing which kind of sucked for me at the time, was I realized how movies aren't reliant on release dates, regardless of what the title is. I have a movie called Mother's Day, which won't come out until Mother's Day 2012, but we thought it was coming out Mother's Day 2011. It just goes to show you that, even though in the back of our head we knew we had this date, it didn't mean that much, but we all wanted it to come out on 11-11-11, because you have such a great, natural, tie-in gimmick for it. The most important thing for me, though, is that the movie is cooler than just a gimmick. It has to work as a movie, not just work as a gimmick, and I think that was the hardest challenge we had to face, to make the movie surpass the gimmick.
The script and the shooting seemed to all go by very fast. Was the casting process as quick as the rest of production?
Darren Lynn Bousman: No, it didn't. Well, first off, the whole experience of making 11-11-11 was a life-changing experience. I kind of lost my mind a little bit, writing the script, in a weird, weird way. The movie deals with a lot of conspiracies, so I started spending a lot of time on conspiracy websites. Being on a conspiracy website is seriously like swimming in a deep, dark, black hole. You start looking and then you go further and further down, one question leads to another question, another question leads to another. The next thing you know, you've spent 24 hours on a website, and you stop knowing what's real and what's not real anymore. I became extremely paranoid. The more I read, the more paranoid I became about everything. It was an insane thing and my wife luckily pulled me out. She was like, 'Darren, you're losing your f$%&ing mind. You've got to finish this script.' When I started writing the script, I was doing a ton of research on the paranormal and weird conspiracy things. When I got to Spain, we had the most insane house. Unless you've seen the behind-the-scenes footage...
I have, yeah. We ran that a few weeks ago. I was actually going to ask you about that next.
Darren Lynn Bousman: That is not faked. Everyone thinks it's faked, but it's absolutely not. I know, as the director with the hype of the movie, of course you're going to think it's a gimmick, but it's absolutely not. We have more of them coming out as well. I had this done a long time ago, but I didn't want to put it out, because I thought people would think it was fake. We had all this amazing shit that happened to us when we were there, but it's been sitting there because I don't want people to think it's just hype for a movie. At a certain point, I just said 'f&%k it, people need to see this.' We had some insane things happen while we were filming the movie, from a coven of witches showing up to our set, to weird cult activity, to threats, to producers quitting after seeing things on the ceiling, to satanic diagrams, just insane things. We had numerous, unexplained illnesses and people getting hurt on set. We had weird audio that we got back which had screaming in the background, when there was no one screaming on set. One of the weirdest things was the production designer found these holes in the wall. You'd have to look for it, but every room in the house would have a hole that was drywalled over. If you look inside the hole, there was a piece of parchment paper, which had, we think, Samarian writing on it. We found out what it was later, and they were basically incantations to keep demons out of the room. People would do it if they thought they were cursed, they would drill these holes in the wall and put these papers in to protect the house. So, what was the first f*%*ing thing we did when we got to the house? Removed them all, like some idiots, and some weird crazy stuff started happening. I understand I sound like a crazy person, but unless you were there, you would not roll your eyes. It was pretty crazy. It was an experience I've never had in my life, and probably never will have again.
What is on the other featurettes coming out?
Darren Lynn Bousman: I'll give you an example of another one. We shot in a house on the Mediterranean Sea, and the house was built in the 1900s. The story that goes with the house was a girl was murdered there by her uncle. The girl lived with her father, who was a Marquis, a high political thing, and his uncle. She was murdered in a ritualistic fashion by the brother. The Marquis, fearing for his political career, hid her and said the daughter ran away. They buried the daughter in the house. That's all fact. We actually researched that. They caught the Marquis and he was arrested and the brother was arrested. The legend is that the girl can be seen at the windows. We have a shot, and the first time I looked at it, I thought I was being punked. It's so subtle that when you look at it, it's like, 'OK, who cares,' until you know what you're looking at. On the second floor window of the house, there are three window shades, which are from the original house and they're wooden. They're outside the window, not inside, so if you were going to open them, they're attached to pulley systems on the other side of the wall. You have to unlock the pulley system, you have to raise it with a cord, and then lock the pulley system back. Each window has its own pulley system. The pulley systems in this particular window were broken. There are three windows and they were all broken, so they were tied to the wall by a nail. If you wanted to open them, you had to take the nail out, pull the cord, and put the nail back in. We tried opening and closing them for the shots, and we couldn't do it. In this shot of these two actors talking in front of the house, within six seconds, you see all the windows fly open and then slam closed. We never noticed it when we were filming, because we were really far away from the house. What's crazy about that, is that's the room the girl was supposedly killed in. What's even more crazy is the only way for that to have happened, a special effects crew would have had to go in there and fix the pulley systems, three different effects people would have to stand by the windows and, on cue, would have to go, 'Now, now, now,' to do this. Trust me when I tell you, no one in Spain would have done that, no one would have cared enough to go up and do that. We almost missed it, because you really had to look for it to see it happen, but that was another thing where, once we saw it, it was completely unnerving. It's subtle. It's not like we saw a ghost walk across the room, but knowing that was impossible to happen was creepy. We have a lot of weird audio voices on the takes that weren't there originally. Could this all be explained? Possibly, but I'm telling you, from being there, it was the most horrible place I've ever been.
Wow. That's amazing.
Darren Lynn Bousman: The thing that's funny for me, looking back at this now... look, I'm I guess a masochist, because I always read the talkbacks on every single website. It's pretty funny how everyone is like, 'This is such bullshit. This is not real. Darren Bousman is the worst actor in the world.' No, I'm not the worst actor in the world, because I'm not acting. All my reactions in that are real, like me freaking out.
Darren Lynn Bousman: Yeah. The problem with Mother's Day, it's an awesome movie and I'm very, very proud of it, we sold it to a company that was going to release it in 2011. The company basically went bankrupt, or there was a lawsuit, but it prevented Mother's Day and three other movies from coming out. We finally got the rights to the movie back, and the new company that purchased it decided that it would make more sense to put it out on the date it's based on. So now we're having to wait until 2012 for the release.
Is there anything you can say about The Barrens?
Darren Lynn Bousman: I just finished The Barrens. It's pretty awesome. It's a completely different movie than I've ever done before. It's a movie I've wanted to make since Saw II. I've had two passion projects in my life. I guess every movie I do is a passion project, but these two movies, from leaving film school, I had to make. The first one was Repo! the Genetic Opera! and the second one is The Barrens. I went away trying to pitch Repo and The Barrens, those were the first things I was ever out in Hollywood pitching, and luckily I've had some success in my career where I've been allowed to make Repo, and again I was able to make The Barrens, which was supposed to be the movie I was going to make after Saw II. The original producer who I was working on it with, was a guy named Gregg Hoffman, who died. He was one of the producers on the Saw films and, after Saw II came out, he said, 'What do you want to do next?' I said I want to do this movie about the Jersey devil called The Barrens. About three or four weeks later, he died and that movie kind of got scrapped. It's been something always in the back of my head that I always wanted to make. It's kind of a dream come true, to actually go out and make it.
This is based on the actual Jersey devil legend then?
Darren Lynn Bousman: It is, yes. Listen, I'm a huge horror nerd and horror fan, and I wanted to make my version of a monster movie, but I didn't want to make it like a sci-fi, up all night kind of thing. I wanted to make it extremely emotional and dramatic as well. I think the problem is a lot of the monster movies make it about the monster, and, by doing that, it's hard to suspend disbelief because you know that monster isn't real. You know it's a guy in a suit or a CGI creature, because it's all about the monster. I wanted to make the movie about the family as scary and horrific as the monster is. It's this kind of weird, dysfunctional family who goes into the woods, and you're as worried about the family, before the monster comes in, than you are when the monster actually does come in. It's kind of this dueling story of a dysfunctional family, set against the Jersey devil's backdrop.
Finally, what would you like to say to anyone who is skeptical about 11-11-11 about why they should check it out?
Darren Lynn Bousman: I think 11-11-11 is my love letter to movies like Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist. It's an homage to the 70s religious horror films, and I hope people give it a chance and take a look at it. It's pretty exciting to see it come together so quickly.
Are you hoping some theaters will show this at 11:11 PM?
Darren Lynn Bousman: That's the hope. I hope it gets picked up at 11:11 at night.
Awesome. That's my time, Darren. Thanks so much. It was great talking to you.
Darren Lynn Bousman: Cool, man. Thanks a lot.