Back in March, Screen Rant had the opportunity to peek into the editing bay for Annabelle Comes Home. As it was Gary Dauberman's first time directing after writing several beloved films in the Conjuring Universe, the excitement of bringing his own vision to life was palpable. Not only that, but the feels a lot more personal as well. It focuses on the daughter of Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren and how she views her parents. As a young girl who wants nothing more than to fit in, Judy (Mckenna Grace) struggles with how different her parents' work makes her seem. But those struggles get a lot more life-threatening when they bring a creepy, possessed doll home to join the rest of their cursed artifacts.
Judy isn't the only one affected by Annabelle, though. Babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) and her best friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) encounter a house full of horrors thanks to the doll's ability to summon evil spirits. After previewing a few introductory scenes, such as Ed and Lorraine's car drive home with their new acquisition and Daniela's first visit to the artifact room, Dauberman answered several questions about the process of creating Annabelle Comes Home and his hopes for its emotional impact.
Do you feel like Annabelle Comes Homes has a Halloween vibe?
Gary Dauberman: That’s the best thing you could ever say to me. You got it. That’s one of my favorite horror movies of all time. The course of the movie takes place over the course of one night, a lot like Halloween, so it has that same sort of – I hope – that same kind of build. Where we’re sort of building towards something and we get some character moments early on, people get settled in, and then we’re off to the races. I thought that was sort of a unique take that we haven’t done yet in the Conjuring Universe. It’s a day in the life, a night in the life, of our girls.
How integral is the parent-child dynamic to this film? It seems like a recurring theme throughout the Conjuring Universe.
Gary Dauberman: It’s pretty important. It’s Judy trying to wrestle with who her parents are and how they’re being viewed. As we learned in The Conjuring 2, not everybody believes what they do. In The Conjuring, they’re called kooks. To her, they’re her parents. They’re the ones who make her go to bed on time, love her and all that stuff. I think that’s got to be really tough for a kid. And as more and more people start to discover what they do, it just gets harder and harder for her, so it’s really sort of about, “Will she come to accept what they do?” Kind of ask those questions. So it’s pretty central.
How much are you using of Ed & Lorraine’s actual story in this?
Gary Dauberman: I talked to Judy a lot, the actual Judy Warren, when she came on set. Just what it was like to be their daughter. I think about it in terms of my own kids and stuff, and just being away a lot, just stuff you deal with as a parent. [When] I wrote that scene in the car, I wanted to see them as just parents, or as a married couple, as opposed to just these paranormal investigators that we’ve seen in the other movies – and see what that relationship was like. I wrote the scene about Ed’s poor sense of direction before I learned from Judy that Ed had a terrible sense of direction. That’s a conversation they would have, she remembers that a lot.
I wanted to ask about the things that I couldn’t find out in the countless books that have been written on them and by them. You know, the fact that they love diners. They would seek out what’s the best diner in town. Things like that I just love. It felt like I was getting secrets or something that not a lot of people knew, it's a nice peek behind the curtain of what their family life was like. But it was great to actually just spend in their house. The movie takes place in their house, which hopefully becomes its own kind of character. You set a horror movie in the Warren house, there’s a lot you could do [but] it has its own sort of challenges and limitations too.
This is your first time directing as well as writing. How different is it to bring your own vision to life?
Gary Dauberman: The short answer is very different. But it was nice having a shorthand with the writer. I didn’t have to be so specific in the script, because I knew I could just email the people who needed to be [in the know]. The script felt like an ongoing conversation with myself. I just fleshed out ideas, and as these great collaborators come onboard - like Michael Burgess who’s the DP, and of course working with James [Wan] and Peter Safran and the guys at New Line and Atomic Monster. It always felt like an ongoing conversation, but sooner or later the director always in the past has taken over the conversation to steer it towards whatever they wanted, their point of view. This time I was able to sort of just keep chugging along to my own tune.
Was directing something you always wanted to do?
Gary Dauberman: It was something I always wanted to do, but I always wanted it to be the right thing. I loved horror and I loved the Conjuring franchise. I had other opportunities, it just never felt right. And this one felt right to me because I get to work with people I love and people I respect, and they have fantastic ideas. It felt like a very safe environment, and I care very deeply about this franchise so it felt like the right time.
Did you get the hang of the technical aspect?
Gary Dauberman: Because I’d been on the set of the other movies, it really helped. It’s been such an education, all the movies I’ve worked on, to be able to apply the stuff I’ve learned in hopefully the right way was a great experience. And to shoot it all and have [editor Kirk Morri] sit there and put it all together has been great too. He’s done such an amazing job on the other movies, it felt again very safe. Just having a conversation with him throughout the process. "Am I getting what I need?" and all that stuff, It’s so cool to shoot stuff and then a couple days later see it.
What has James’ involvement been in the film? How much does he step in?
Gary Dauberman: He’s always very involved from the story standpoint. From the get-go, we talked about the initial idea. He’s reading scripts, he's having idea, he comes to set, he comes to the editing room. He’s always very involved. It worked out to my benefit, because he was back from Australia and he was finishing editing while I was shooting. So he was editing here on the lot, and it was like, "James, what do we do?!" or whatever. No, but he’s just super super involved. He's the North Star of the franchise.
Did you work together on the writing of the film?
Gary Dauberman: We kind of bounced around ideas. I think it was James who was like, "I think it would be cool to do the artifact room." It was very organic, and that’s kind of how we feel about all the movies. We didn’t want to do another movie or spinoff just to do one. But it felt like the artifact room was begging for its own kind of movie. And, of course, Annabelle sort of looms the largest in the room and feels like she’s on her throne, as she looks at all her loyal subjects and the other artifacts. That felt like an obvious place to go for the Annabelle movies. And it was a nice way to bring Ed and Lorraine into the Annabelle franchise as well, which is pretty cool. It’s awesome.
What do you think is the secret to the Conjuring Universe’s success?
Gary Dauberman: It’s something I find myself trying not to think too much about because I don’t want to apply a science to it. I wish it was a formula. This all started with The Conjuring, and it’s based on real events. Ed and Lorraine are real people, and they’ve been doing what they call God’s Work and just dealing with demonic forces and stuff that we’re all sort of fascinated with and think about. So I think, really, The Conjuring helped set the table for all of this in a really fantastic way, so everything feels like it has an authenticity to it to some degree. Even if we veer away from actual events to tell something, they all feel like they have a little bit if authenticity to them. So it doesn’t feel [like] just a story that we’ve conjured up from nowhere. A lot of this stuff – a lot of the artifacts we have, are in a room in Connecticut. And at some point, the Warrens went out and investigated them, and whether you believe it or not, that is true. They went out and investigated a case and came to their own conclusions. I just find it more fun to believe than not, because I was never good at science.
How do the actual Warrens feel about the embellishments in the films? Are they onboard?
Gary Dauberman: They’re onboard. I wouldn’t want to do anything to upset them. They’ve been so great to us, the family, and I think we’ve been pretty good to them in terms of just getting their story out there. So it’s been a nice back and forth, but they’re very open to that stuff. They’ll share the real story with us. And I guess it gets people to ask them those questions, and then they can share the real story of what happened. There hasn’t been any issues on that at all, thank God.
Is there something you really wanted to accomplish in this film?
Gary Dauberman: Overall, I really like moments of levity in my horror films because then I feel like the scary is much scarier. Because you have that much more distance to go, if that makes sense at all. So that was something I was really hoping I could achieve, just having some bits of humor before we can get them scared. For me, the best thing is if we can get them laughing and then just right away, boom, we hit them with a scare. I’m not a huge fan of horror comedies, but I like comedy in my horror. So that was something I wanted to get at and tried to sneak in where I could. So I think there’s a couple moments where I’ve managed to do that, just from screenings and stuff, but we’ll see.
Do you want to continue directing in the future?
Gary Dauberman: I would love to continue in the future, yeah. If I could replicate this experience, I would, over and over. Just because I loved the crew that I worked with, they were so great. Obviously I’ve loved working with New Line and Warner Bros. I’ve done that forever. I feel fortunate enough to get to pick the jobs I want, which means I get to pick the people I work with, and that’s been very important to me. That’s a quality of life thing too, you spend so much time with [them]. If Kirk and I hated each other, it’d be the worst job in the universe. I can't wait to do it again, and I’ll try to keep the band together as much as I can.
What impact do you want this to have on the audience? Is there anything you want to leave them with other than being uncomfortable going to bed at night?
Gary Dauberman: I didn’t go into it going, “What’s the message I’m trying tell here?” Because it is important to me that people go and are uncomfortable at night, and are entertained and have fun. That to me is really what I kind of set myself out to do: trying to be entertaining and scary and have fun. I wanted a watchability factor. There’s movies I love that I’ll never watch again, and there’s movies that are like your favorite song that you want to play over and over again. There’s a level of comfort to it, there’s a quality that you like. Just like, “I feel better.” That’s something I like with my stuff, just making it feel like there’s a rewatchability to it.
I wanted to really pay tribute to Judy and the Warrens but not have an overall social message. I went into it from that standpoint, just as a parent myself and how what I do that affects my kids, and how that must be for the Warrens and thinking about their kid. For me, that personal message to me was about that. Another thing that I thought about [is] Daniela. This doesn’t mean to sound as heavy as it is, but Daniela’s story is about her losing her father and wondering if something is out there. I lost my father a year ago, in March, and it did not occur to me until I was telling my sister a couple of weeks ago that “the girl lost her father and she’s trying to…” And she was like, “Do you think you wrote that because of Dad?” I was like, “Ohhh, I guess I did.” It’s so close to it, that it never occurred to me that I was actually dealing with that. So it has that personal message to me, the story, but as far as a grand social message, that’s not something I thought about.
Was there anything that wasn't told about the Warrens in previous films that you felt you had to include in Annabelle Comes Home?
Gary Dauberman: I love the Warrens. Every time they’re onscreen, they’re so great. With Patrick and Vera, I’d be like, “Hey, guys! Guess what? I wrote a new scene last night! here you go!” Because you just want more and more. I just wanted to see them as parents. I think of them as a married couple and the stuff they would talk about when they’re not talking about, "How are we going to get this ghost out of this guy?" or whatever. So that was something, a part of it that we felt was touched upon in The Conjuring 2 and The Conjuring, certainly, but it was just something that I thought would be a cool to see something that we haven’t dug too deeply into before. I think that’s a good opportunity, because you don’t want The Conjuring 2 to just be a romantic comedy. You want it to be about them on a mission and trying to solve it. So I felt like in this one maybe I could have a little bit more freedom to explore the other parts that you wouldn’t be able to in the other movies.
Do you think you succeeded at that?
Gary Dauberman: I think so. I certainly got what I wanted out of it. I can see it between Patrick and Vera on set. They have such great chemistry, and they’re so close, that they really did a great job of capturing that.
- Annabelle Comes Home (2019) release date: Jun 26, 2019
- The Conjuring 3 (2020) release date: Sep 11, 2020