The Making of ‘Oculus’ – An Interview with Filmmakers Mike Flanagan and Jason Blum, Part 2

© 2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Karen Gillian and Brenton Thwaites star in Relativity Media’s OCULUS. ©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Here’s part two of the Los Angeles press conference interview with Oculus director (and editor) Mike Flanagan, and producer Jason Blume. (If you’ve yet to read Part 1, click here.)

Oculus is now available on Blu-ray and DVD, so do check it out.

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JOURNALIST: Mike, being both the director and the editor, what do you feel you were able to bring to the process, particularly with Oculus’ multiple, interweaving character timelines?

FLANAGAN: And then the other lesson from the short [film] that I think was the most important was we had wanted it to play like an old camping story. One of the things about having a sterile, brightly lit environment without any decorations or anything else was that it forced us to focus on the words, and the stories of the mirror that Tim, in the short, was telling. The beauty about a campfire is you’ve just got the fire. Everything else melts away into nothing, so you focus. You sit and you create the story in your own head.

©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

The history of the mirror section in the short film made it to the feature almost untouched. And that was something that, you know, when you look at it, and script is 13 pages of exposition, and people are saying, “I don’t think this is going to work. I don’t think this is going to hold the attention of viewers if they’re just sitting there telling stories.” We could point out that short [film] and say, “It [worked] in the short.”

It took a lot of really intense coverage and editing in order to keep the pace up, to keep it interesting. And it takes an actor who can really deliver that kind of intensity again and again and again, to sell it. That was was a really important thing to have, because when the feature was getting out there, that scene was one of the more controversial, and one of the ones that people would say, “Well, that’s going to get cut way back. People aren’t going to sit through that. People are going to want to.” And so it was really rewarding as we put it together that when we test [screened] the film, it showed up consistently in the top three favorite scenes of the movie. If we hadn’t had the dry run with the short [film] to kind of convince ourselves and other people,that an audience could hang on that kind of storytelling for an extended period of time, I don’t think we could’ve ever made an argument to [include] it in the feature.

©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Karen Gillian stars in Relativity Media’s OCULUS. ©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

JOURNALIST: The construct [of the narrative], the blending of the generations, make that so compelling and suspenseful. But having said that, considering fans of the horror genre – which is one of the few where audiences and the diehard fans are not afraid to express their distaste or point out plot holes; and I could picture people trying to say, “This didn’t work. That didn’t work”, but – did you intensely go over the script even more so knowing that fans of the genre would pick it apart?

FLANAGAN: Oh yeah! You know you’re talking to some of the most enthusiastic fans out there, and you’re right. As one of them it’s like … we analyze and dissect and take it so seriously.

You know, fans are so eager to protect the genre from itself in a lot of ways that it’s like there’s going to be this intense additional scrutiny because you’re putting something out there into a marketplace that’s got this fan-base that’s so rabid. And as one of those fans, that makes me really happy. As a writer, that was really tough. On every draft [of the screenplay] I was asking myself, “What are the questions that are going to be asked? Where is somebody going to throw up their hands? And more importantly, where in the movie can we give voice to those fans? Where in the movie can the person who sits in the theater and crosses their arms say, “Why don’t you break [the mirror].” You know? Where is the character in the movie that says the same thing, so the [audience member] can say, “Oh! My perspective is being represented actually by a character in the film.” And then … is our answer going to be good enough?

So all of that was really difficult, because we didn’t want to ever have it be our fault that we would leave a hole in the script, you know? It was like going back in and making sure that the characters in the movie would react and act the way an intelligent viewer would. That was very important.

It’s tough because, you know, luckily we lived with this thing for so long – after the short [film] it was like seven years before we got into the preproduction on the feature – that there was plenty of time to ask all these questions and to try to answer and anticipate them. That’s one of the things where that kind of long gulf between the short film and the feature help a lot, because there was just tons of time to just think about it.

Yeah, it’s one of those things where knowing that fan-base and being an enthusiastic member of it, you know, certainly helps because you want them to come out and feel like their intelligence has been respected by the story and that they’re not going to sit there and have to suspend common sense. Suspending disbelief in a movie one thing, and we all do it. And every genré requires. But suspending common sense is a different thing, and I don’t think people enjoy that. I don’t think people respond to movies where characters are behaving in a way that an audience member never would. So I think that’s something to be very aware of, but it certainly isn’t always easy.

©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Garrett Ryan (left) and Annalise Basso (right) star in Relativity Media’s OCULUS. ©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

JOURNALIST: Jason, you have a lot of experience [producding and marketing films] in the genré. How do you deal with addressing the concerns of the fans?

BLUM: I think it’s very important. I mean, in terms of logistics stuff, we do exactly what you described on all our movies. We screen them.  We screen them a lot of times for fans.

I think one thing that’s fun about the horror community, because we are in a lot of ways, kind of outcasts in Hollywood, where horror is kind of looked down upon – so what it does is it keeps the people who love horror and make horror [films] … it keeps us all together.  So when we make our movies … actually, every movie we do, we have a bunch of directors who come and watch and talk to each other. So I think it feels much more like a family. It’s exactly like what Mike’s talking about. It’s like protecting the genré and making sure the movies make sense and that people are reacting to scary things in the way that they think they should be.

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