When Gary Dauberman was hired in 2013 to write a spin-off to James Wan’s hit horror film The Conjuring based around the creepy doll Annabelle, New Line Cinema might have already known it had a new franchise on its hands. Five years later, the “Conjuring-verse” has delivered a number of horror hits based on Dauberman’s scripts, and he also wrote New Line’s blockbuster adaptation of Stephen King’s It, the second part of which comes out this September.
As the title suggests, Annabelle Comes Home brings the malicious doll back into the artifact/trophy room of Ed and Lorraine Warren, once again played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga (although it’s still a prequel to The Conjuring). Playing the Warrens’ 10-year-old daughter Judy is McKenna Grace (Gifted) who is left in the care of her babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) as her parents go off on another supernatural adventure. Mary Ellen’s nosy best friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) swings by in hopes of getting some sign of the Warrens’ bizarre rumored occupation, and she breaks the #1 rule of the house by going into the artifact room and unwittingly releasing Annabelle. That leads to a night of terrors as the three of them are terrorized by a number of malevolent spirits that are attracted to the creepy doll.
Besides co-writing the new movie with Wan, Dauberman also makes his directorial debut with Annabelle Comes Home, as he continues to keep New Line Cinema at the forefront of the horror genre.
The Beat spoke with Mr. Dauberman last week, mainly about making the jump to directing with Annabelle Comes Home, though I did squeeze in a couple questions about his Stephen King adaptations as well as find out that he does have at least one more Annabelle idea on his brain.
THE BEAT: You’ve been heavily involved in New Line’s resurgence as a horror studio, which is awesome, because they’ve done some amazing movies in the past, but especially with the Annabelle spin-offs. What motivated you to direct this one? Was that something you’ve been wanting to do and this was just the right movie?
Gary Dauberman: It was always something I wanted to do, but it was one of those things where I didn’t want to force the issue, as it were. I love writing, I’ve loved producing, and I was just waiting for the right opportunity, to really raise my hand and say, “What about me for director?” Having worked on the other two Annabelle movies and just having a shorthand with a lot of the crew and the producers, it just felt like the right opportunity was Annabelle Comes Home. So that’s when I raised my hand and said, “Hey, what about me?” Everybody was extremely, extremely supportive of that and really encouraging.
THE BEAT: And James got more involved with the writing on this one? I know he’s been busy with other things like Aquaman and Swamp Thing, but he wrote the script or did you two work on it together?
Dauberman: Yeah, we worked on the idea. He has a ton of ideas, and we sit down in the room and bat them around, or I come to him with some ideas and then he pluses them, making them even cooler. I then go away and scribble away and come back with pages, and then we use those for the foundation of everything that follows. Even when he’s off doing Aquaman or whatever, he’s very, very hands on. He’s very accessible. There’s never really a moment where you feel like you’re out on an island. He’s just a great partner in that regard. He always makes himself available for whatever you need. It was great to have him at my side during what was my first directing gig.
THE BEAT: Was there a lot of Skyping involved while he was shooting in Australia?
Dauberman: No, I mean, he was back here finishing up post on Aquaman, so it really was just a quick walk across the lot to the mix or whatever he was doing on Aquaman. Once that was done, he was around when needed. There was no need for Skype but lotta texts, lotta phone calls, but a lot of face-to-face, too.
THE BEAT: At what point did the conversation start to have the Warrens in this one to tie into Annabelle’s first appearance in The Conjuring?
Dauberman: That was James’ initial idea that it would be cool to do the third movie and set it in the Warrens’ artifact room and really see what that means for the other artifacts to have her presence in the room. That immediately sparked my interest and got the wheels turning, of course, and then you can’t be in the Warrens’ house without seeing the Warrens. It was just an organic opportunity to have that crossover between the two franchises, as opposed to, “Hey, we’re doing a third Annabelle. How can we work the Warrens into this thing?” It just happened organically, which was the benefit and advantage to have all of us Ed and Lorraine in this, and Patrick and Vera.
THE BEAT: Initially, the Conjuring movies are based on the real cases of the Warren, who are real people. I think she was still alive while you were making these, I’m not sure about Ed, so was the doll Annabelle based on a real doll in their room?
Dauberman: It was one of those “inspired by” events. We used many of the events that happened to other people in the presence of the doll and put it all under the umbrella of John and Mia and what they went through in that movie. We do that for all these movies. Whatever happens, we’re looking towards those files and the events and the entities and demons that the Warrens have encountered over the years. There are so many cool moments, but you might go, “Well, maybe that doesn’t make a complete story, but that’s such a great moment. Let’s use it for this movie and put it there.” I think it really helps ground it and give these movies its authenticity.
THE BEAT: In this case, you introduce a lot of different spirits and I wondered if those were based on real cases, as well. I don’t how much you want to talk about them since you want to save something for the movie, of course.
Dauberman: Yeah, yeah… but no, again, a lot of them were inspired by the Warrens and their case files. Some, you might suspect, “Oh, there’s no way that was one of their….” And then you go [check] and you go, “Oh, my God, they actually really did encounter something like that.” But I’ll leave it up to the audience to dive into the backstories.
THE BEAT: What about Judy? Obviously, the Warrens have a real daughter. I’m not sure how involved she was in those cases. Did you meet her?
Dauberman: I met Judy [Spera] over the years and Judy and Tony [her husband] are really huge fans of the franchise, and they’re such a wonderful resource to have, to be able to Email them and go, “Hey, how would your parents do this? Or Judy, what was it like growing up in a house that had these things in it? What was it like being left while your parents went off to…?” Not being left, but she couldn’t go on all those cases with them, so, “You had to share them with the public and know they’re out there doing good things. At the same time, you’re still a kid and you always want your Mom and Dad around, so what was that like?” It was nice to have those conversations with her, and for her to be so gracious and generous with those stories was a huge advantage.
THE BEAT: Since you had been involved with the previous movies, was deciding with the crews on whether to use CG or practical FX – they’ve done it quite a bit, obviously. Did you have certain things you wanted to do a certain way? I guess when you’re writing, you have to figure out what’s possible.
Dauberman: Yeah, James and I are huge fans of practical stuff, and we always want to lean into that as much as we can. Then, when we can’t, we go through other avenues. When I’m writing in the past, I’m not thinking too much, “Oh, God, how are they going to accomplish this?” because that stymies your creative output a little bit, if you’re thinking too much of, “Oh, they’ll never be able to accomplish this” or “This is going to be too expensive” or whatever. You just try to tell the best story. Of course, when I’m writing, I’m also going, “Well that’s not really my problem either…” (laughs) cause I’m going to write it and then it’s going to be another director who comes in and has to pick up the ball. This one I didn’t have that – it was me. (laughs)
THE BEAT: That’s why I asked, because I was wondering about that.
Dauberman:Yeah, yeah, so I guess there was some of that, “Aw, fuck, how am I going to do this?” but knowing everybody involved, it was like, “Hey, if I want to write this are we able to do that?” I could get ahead of it, so there’s not a lot of hoping fingers-crossed that we can afford this or we can do that. I could get ahead of it, make some phone calls and go, “Oh, that sounds cool. I think we can pull that off if we did it this way,” and then, “Great, I’m going to go write it.” That helps a whole lot and saves on the, “Hey, we really like this but there’s no way we can do it so think of something else.” It was a timesaver in that regard.
THE BEAT: I’m amazed by how these movies and the Insidious movies have really upped the game on supernatural and ghost-based horror. Is there any danger of running out of ideas? There are things you can do again but you can’t really do them again because moviegoers are so attuned to how these scares work that they’re expecting them. Is it hard to come up with ideas for all these supernatural movies you’re writing?
Dauberman: No. We’ve been telling ghost stories for thousands of years, right? So I don’t feel like we’re running out of steam at all, but I do think that we’re fans first. We’re the first people to see these movies, and we can get a sense of going, “Oh, we went to the well too many times on that one,” or “How can we make it interesting to us?” and hopefully, that makes it interesting to everybody else. That’s how I operate. I hope I share a similar sensibility to a lot of the audience members out there. If I’m bored I know other people are gonna be bored. You do try to change it up with each one, but all that said, if you put a creaky phantom footstep or a creaky door opening at just the right moment, your hair is going to stand on end. But how creaky doors have we seen in horror movies? If you execute it right, it’s still going to work. While it’s tropey and all that, there are reasons why these things are in there, because when I go home after watching this movie and I’m in my room and I hear a door creak down the hall, yeah, I’m going to be a little freaked out by it. That’s the long way of just saying that I’m not worried about running out of ideas. We’re always trying to think of ways to reinvent ourselves.
THE BEAT: I had the benefit of seeing Annabelle Comes Home, The Nun and the first It movie with a real audience, which was fun. I made the mistake of seeing Annabelle: Creation on my own late at night. I started watching it after 11PM, and I should have stopped cause it was late but I couldn’t stop, and I kept watching it so by 12:30 in the morning I was completely freaked out and needed to get to sleep. I’m not sure which works better, but I used to be weird about seeing horror movies with an audience now I’m the opposite.
Dauberman: (laughs) By the way, those are the two perfect ways to see a horror movie, in my opinion. It’s either with a large audience out in the theater or home late at night, lights off and you put the movie on. Either way I’m good with.
THE BEAT: I’ve seen the It Chapter Two trailer quite a bit in the last couple weeks, and I’m not sure what to ask about it. Selfishly, I don’t want to even spoil it for myself. Is Andy close to finishing it and are you pretty happy with how it’s turning out with your involvement in writing it?
Dauberman: I’ll say this, that I’m fucking REALLY happy with how it’s all turning out. The Muschiettis, Andy, they really outdid themselves on this one yet again, and the cast, they’re just a blast to spend that amount of time with. Everybody’s at the top of their game. I’m really proud of that movie.
THE BEAT: When you’re directing Annabelle, are you still able to be as involved as a writer as you’d like to be or need to be, or they need you on another movie like It Chapter Two?
Dauberman: They were heading into production when I started to write Annabelle, so it was kind of all there, and they were off and running by the time I was writing Annabelle. Look, do I wish I could have gone up to Toronto and hang out on the set like I did on the first one? Sure, but at the same time, I was making my own movie, so that was also fine, but I love spending time with them, and I love watching Andy work. I’m sure I’ll be able to do it again at some point.
THE BEAT: Between Andy and David Sandberg, you’ve had some amazing directors working on your scripts, so you don’t have the problem some writers have where you hand the script in and you don’t know what’s going to happy with it.
Dauberman: No, they’re fantastic, and I don’t like to write scripts. I like to make movies. I think it’s because of James and New Line, they’ve really set the tone of, “The writer is going to be involved throughout. We want to stick with our horse.” A lot of other places, they get a draft and they find somebody else, they write another draft. “No, no, no. We don’t want to develop. We want to make movies.” We try to find filmmakers that are super-collaborative and enjoy that process, and yeah, Sandberg and Muschietti, I’m so fortunate to have been able to work with them.
THE BEAT: You’ve been tasked with adapting Salem’s Lot and Train to Busan – a book and a movie I love. With Salem’s Lot especially, I feel like there’s a better movie to be made from that book. How is that going? Might we see that on the sooner side of things?
Dauberman: I think you’ll see it on the sooner side, and it’s going great. I tell people that I hopped on 95 out of Derry and ended up in Salem’s Lot. It’s been a lot of fun working on that. My wife’s actually from Maine, so we go back every summer. I used to drive going, “What’s Derry like?” so this summer I’m going to back and do that quote-unquote location scouting for finding things that maybe Stephen King was looking at while writing Salem’s Lot. It’s been a blast, and I think it’s really time to make vampires scary again. It’s really cool to work on something like that.
THE BEAT: I wanted to ask something about the end of Annabelle: Creation [and please read no further if you haven’t seen that movie yet!] but at the end of the movie they find the Annabelle doll but the girl has escaped and then it cuts to years later and the beginning of the first Annabelle, so how did she get the doll back? I felt I missed something.
Dauberman: Well, that’s… (laughs) I have that story in my head.
Annabelle Comes Home opens Wednesday, June 26 with previews on Tuesday night, as early as 5pm. You can read my review of the movie later on today right here at The Beat. For more on the Warrens’ daughter Judy Spera, New Line actually released a fantastic bit of promotion about her that you can watch below: