Thursday, March 9, 2017

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Director Mike Flanagan Returns To Talk OUIJA 2, BEFORE I WAKE, GERALD'S GAME, And More!

I recently had the opportunity to talk once again with the very talented director, Mike Flanagan.  This time around we talked about his recent film, Ouija: Origin of Evil, the fate of Before I Wake, and some of his upcoming projects, including Gerald's Game and the remake of I Know What You Did Last Summer.  Check out the whole interview below and let us know your thoughts.

MERC WITH A MOVIE BLOG: Ouija: Origin of Evil was a huge success with the critics, currently being Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes with 82%.  This is a big step up compared to the 7% being held by the first film.  I know for me, your film was far superior in every single way, but can you tell us a little bit about what you personally think were the big reasons for this success.

MIKE FLANAGAN: I think the biggest reason is that the people in charge of the franchise were very aware of what happened with the first film. It's important to point out, also, that in some ways the first movie is way more successful than the second... it grossed 105m worldwide, and we did about 83m. So there are lots of ways to quantify the success of a movie. Blumhouse, Platinum Dunes, Universal and Hasbro were very happy with how the first OUIJA performed, but also very self-aware about how it was received. When they first approached me, they were very clear that they didn't want to just rehash what they did the first time - they wanted to make a different movie, and one that hopefully improved on some of the areas where they felt the first didn't connect. That was their intention from the start, and what was so great about this movie was that they put their money where their mouth was. They wanted to make a better film, and every decision they made after that first meeting supported that idea. That's very rare in Hollywood, and I think that Jason Blum (and all of the producers) were so committed to that idea, and supportive of me throughout - that's the biggest reason it was so creatively successful. 

They were also very supportive of surrounding me with the team of people I rely on the most: my producer Trevor Macy, who has done all of my films since OCULUS, and my DP Michael Fimognari. A lot of my department heads have been with me on multiple projects, and so having my team there made a huge difference as well. The producers committed to their intention to make a better film, and then surrounded me with the people I needed to do what I do. 

MERC: It's rare that a sequel (especially in horror) can surpass the original, but as stated above, you succeeded on several levels.  What I've been curious about is how did the opportunity to direct this new Ouija film come about?   And were you nervous going into an already established world?

MF: I've worked with Blumhouse on a number of things now, and Jason (along with Platinum Dunes) first approached me with the idea of doing OUIJA 2. I was very nervous about getting into an established franchise, especially one that hadn't been necessarily well-received. My skepticism was short-lived, though, as their commitment to making a quality film was evident from the start. It's rare to have that kind of creative support, and once I started looking at the film differently it made it irresistible. Here was a chance to play with the aesthetics of 60's and 70's cinema, and to work on the kind of movie that I loved watching when I was younger. Because it had a commitment from Universal, and was going to be a big wide release, it meant I'd get to have a lot of fun creatively and that the film would be seen by a huge audience (this isn't often the case when I do a film, we're usually crossing our fingers that a film will be released at all). It turned out to be one of the most fun, rewarding jobs of my career, and I'm so glad I did the movie. There was a lot of skepticism at first, but I'm grateful that it was so short-lived. I wouldn't trade this experience for anything.

MERC: I have to applaud the overall retro feel of this film.  From the clothing to the sets, the music, and even the use of the old Universal Studios opening card.  But one of my favorite things was the use of "cigarette burn" cue marks, which were used to signal a reel change on film projected movies.  What made you decide to use these in the film?

MF: The OUIJA franchise is designed for younger viewers. I thought a lot about the kinds of horror films I watched when I was twelve or thirteen, the ones that really introduced me to the genre. I wanted to try to recreate that experience as much as I could. Movies like POLTERGEIST, THE CHANGELING, WATCHER IN THE WOODS, THE EXORCIST... I have so much affection for those films, and for how I experienced them when I was young. I wanted to honor the spirit of those viewing experiences, and the aesthetics were a big part of that. I so vividly remember sitting in the theater and watching the cigarette burns go by on each reel... that's a feeling most younger viewers have never had. I figured there is plenty of contemporary horror out there and it uses a pretty similar language - I wanted this to be a love letter to the films I discovered as a kid. All of those choices came from a place of nostalgia, and that was some of the most fun we had on the set. There's nothing like breaking out a split diopter, and framing a shot the way DePalma or Polanski used to.

MERC: Many directors put Easter eggs from previous films in their movies, and I think I may have spotted one here.  Was that the Oculus mirror in the Zander's basement? And if so, was it there just for keen-eyed fans, or is it maybe a way of tying the two worlds together?

MF: That was indeed the OCULUS mirror. We joked that maybe this was actually a prequel to OCULUS, and that the board had nothing to do with it - but it's really just there as candy for the fans. Ultimately, the mirror and the Ouija board don't really matter in my movies... they're just engines for the real horror of the stories, which lives in grief, loss, madness, and the disintegration of a family. I'd say those two films are cousins, in a way.

MERC: I've loved your films, from Oculus to Hush, and of course Ouija: Origin of Evil, but one film I've been waiting, what seems like forever, to see is Before I Wake. What is the current status of Before I Wake? I know it was scheduled for release last year, and then disappeared (again) from the calendar.  Will we be seeing it anytime soon?

MF: BEFORE I WAKE has sadly been swallowed up in Relativity Media's bankruptcy issues. We've had four release dates come and go. It's been heartbreaking for me. It has absolutely nothing to do with the film itself, which I'm thrilled with and hasn't changed a frame since we delivered it back in 2014. Relativity (our domestic distributor) has been in such terrible financial and legal trouble for years now, and the film is just too tangled in their mess. I have no idea when or if it'll be released here in the States, though it has been released internationally, and you can find copies of the blu-ray in Canada (look at That's been a very frustrating experience, though, and I'm worried that the movie is already too tainted by the failings of its distributor. Most viewers don't know or care about Relativity going bankrupt, so they only see the film as being long-delayed, and will make assumptions. That really sucks.

MERC: Last time we spoke, you said you were very anxious to get your adaptation of Stephen King's Gerald's Game on it's feet.  Now that it is underway, how are feeling about it? And what can share with us about this new project?

MF: It's just about finished, and I couldn't be more excited. I've wanted to make that movie since I was 19 years old, and it's truly special. King has seen it and loved it, and I think people are going to be blown away when they see what Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood achieve from a performance standpoint. It may be my favorite of all of my films so far.

MERC: I also noticed on IMDb that you are attached as the writer for a remake of the 90's slasher flick I Know What You Did Last Summer.  Is this something that's actually happening, and if so, what can you tell us about the project?

MF: They hired Jeff Howard and I to do the script, and we delivered the script a little while ago. My involvement ends there. We had a lot of fun working on it, so I hope they get it made - I think fans would dig it. We really love the script we wrote, and we're watching out for updates just like everyone else! 

MERC: You also said you wanted to get into television, and that you were exploring some options for that.  Can we expect to see your name pop up on the small screen soon? And if so, in what?

MF: Definitely... I can't really talk about what's cooking, but I hope people get to hear about it soon! 

MERC: Are there any other upcoming projects you're working on and would like to share?

MF: There's a lot in the works. I don't like to talk too much about things until they're real, because I'm afraid to jinx them. Projects get announced and then circumstances change, or priorities shift - I think they announced I was doing GERALD'S GAME back in 2013, but that project didn't become real until last year. I've so far had one movie announced that hasn't been made, and a few other attachments announced that may or may not come to fruition, but I've gotten wary of tempting fate by talking too much. I can say that I'm anxious to work on another Stephen King story after the wonderful experience I had on GERALD'S GAME. Also, Jeff and I are just getting started on our script for Joe Hill's SNAPSHOT 1988, which is a fantastic story and could be an amazing movie. I'm sure the next project will be announced soon, so keep an eye out! 

I'd like to say a special thank you to Mr. Flanagan for taking the time to chat with me.  Be sure to check out Ouija: Origin of Evil and all of his other films, and keep an eye out for more news on Gerald's Game, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and more!

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