Daniel Stamm was born and raised in Hamburg, Germany, where as a teenager, he was the host of a radio show and editor of a youth magazine. He toured with a theater, studied drama, and published a play before he went to Belfast, Northern Ireland, as a peace worker. Two years later, he returned to Germany to go to film school and study screenwriting at the Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg in Ludwigsburg. He wrote a TV movie that got nominated for Germany’s most prestigious media award and directed a documentary on rock musician Nick Cave.
Daniel moved to Los Angeles and graduated from the American Film Institute’s directing program. His thesis film got nominated for the ASC Award. In the following three years, he made short films, wrote songs for local singers, sat on a film festival jury in Kosovo, became a certified hypnotist, and hitch-hiked across the US. In 2008 Daniel’s first feature film, ‘A Necessary Death,’ premiered at SXSW in Austin, Texas, before winning the audience award at AFI Fest later the same year.
His second feature, ‘The Last Exorcism,’ premiered at the Los Angeles Film Fest in 2010, was distributed by Lionsgate, and grossed over $65 million worldwide. The film and/or its actors got nominated for the People’s Choice Award, two Independent Spirit Awards, and an MTV Movie Award. It won an Empire Award as well as awards in Sitges and Toronto.
Alex Ferrari 1:52
Enjoy today's episode with guest host, Jason Buff.
Jason Buff 1:56
Today we're talking with the director of one of my absolute favorite films, The Last Exorcism, Daniel Stamm is with us today. And I'm really excited to for you guys to listen to what we talked about, I learned a whole lot. And one of the biggest things I got out of this was Daniels checklists that he goes through, you know, he's known for being a very prepared director. And he actually gave me his list of his checklist of things that he makes, he looks at before he directs the scene. All right, here is my interview with Daniel stem. And I think the best place to start is going into when film really kind of affected you like the films that you were that kind of convinced you that you wanted to do this for a living when you were growing up?
Daniel Stamm 2:43
Well, my dirty secret is always that I didn't start out wanting to make movies I was I was a big Role Playing Game Nerd a lot of Dungeons and Dragons in my teens and all that stuff. And I always thought I have to find some kind of job where I can keep playing Dungeons and Dragons basically, and get paid for it. So I wanted to be a writer, I was kind of looking around in Germany for programs where I could study writing, because German parents won't let you just do something, if you don't get a diploma for it, they don't take it seriously. So I knew I had to look for something where I could get a diploma. And it would kind of be taken seriously. So I always said I wanted to be a journalist, which was a complete lie. Because I wanted to write novels, you know, make make that was always amazing to me, just the feeling that you could sit down with a couple of people and make something up and suddenly it exists in everyone's minds. And you have like this, you know, this godlike power of creativity was mind blowing to me. And I think once once you've experienced that it kind of gets addictive. You know, it was never like a question that I could do anything else. So then I ended up at a Film Academy in Germany and Luke Vicksburg, which was kind of the most modern film school in Germany. They're very renowned traditional old film schools in Germany that vendors and Fassbender and like the Verner Hertzog although the old German greats went to invent this film school opened up and it was very commercial, you know, it didn't, didn't only support like making movies, it made commercial to make TV shows it made all that kind of stuff that the other schools frown upon. And I studied screenwriting there. And I was there for four years, and wrote my little screenplays and then I would give it to directing students and the directing student would go off and make the movie and it'd be horrendous. Looking back now, they were pretty brilliant. But of course, as a writer at the time, you're so stuck on what you have in your head that no matter what they come back with, it's never what you imagined it like right now should have given them somewhere sec. But they also always came back with these amazing stories that were like adventure stories because there was always I mean, everyone who's tried making a movie knows that that there are always unsurmountable conflicts, you know, and it's a team sticking their head together and trying to figure it out. And the the actresses are beautiful and there's romance on fit. It's all that stuff that you yearn for. And you're locked out of all of that, as a screenwriter and I always had the feeling, the storytelling process is kind of artificially cut in half. Because I've already figured out the story of the characters in my head, all I need to do is to communicate that to the actors, and the cinematographer and the production designer. And I can call myself a director was always weird to me that there was some random person coming in halfway through the process, taking over being the Big Shot, that then gets all the credit for the movie, right? Oh, I thought I can do that too. But then my friends at the German film school, they weren't that taken with their directing program. So when I decided to start study directing, I knew I didn't want to do it there, even though it's a great school. But I came to Los Angeles and studied at AFI the American Film Institute here. And I was, you know, lucky, it's a crazy, expensive school, which I had to learn that everything in the States is because in Germany, you know, you go to film school, it's an application process, it's kind of tough to get through. But once you do get through it, you don't have to pay anything. And then AFI suddenly was like, $100,000, something crazy, which I didn't have. So it took me a year and a half to raise the funds through scholarships from different organizations and all that which was kind of a job in itself. And then I came here, all bushy tailed and wide eyed to Hollywood, which still kind of amazes me every time I take the exit ramp, and it says Hollywood, I've always like I've never wears. And then I found out that the German Film Academy that I went to, they had sent a group to the American Film Institute before they started the school for a week to explore and to do research. And then they basically rebuilt the American Film Institute in Germany, like the structure, the the curriculum, everything the people they hired, even, it was weird, because it was like, I knew everything about the school. And I've never been there because it was a one to one copy of the whole thing. And then I started directing short films there and kind of met my team there that I'm still working with my cinematographer and my editor, we worked together there. And it was kind of a great environment because the German film school didn't have the language barrier. Everyone that was studying there came either from Germany, Switzerland, or Austria. So there weren't very big differences in cultural approaches to narrative to storytelling to filmmaking. But at AFI in my first group was a Native American writer, or an Australian cinematographer, an Asian production designer, and a Indian editor. And we were making ends meet as a German director, and we made a hip hop movie, which none of us knew anything about. Of course, that's, of course, that's what you made you feel exactly. Cool, because you suddenly get challenged all the time, the all these things that you kind of take for granted and have never thought about, like, your editor will suddenly let a wide shot stand for two minutes. And you kind of go crazy and you go like, we can't do that. And she says, why can't we do that. And suddenly, you have to search inside of yourself what your impulse is where that's coming from that you can't do that, like everything, every creative decision, you suddenly have to verbalize and discuss with a team. And there are some fights that you win and some fights that you lose. And if I was very concerned with kind of de emphasizing the power of the director, which I think was really helpful, that you weren't the Big Shot, you didn't get to call all the shots like the first short film was initiated by the writer. So the writer had all the power, which created complete chaos, because obviously the the writers were like in character, completely different from the directors like the directors normally are these kind of grandiose, confident people and the writer. Really sweet kind of smart but introverted people. So it kind of put everything on its head. And it was a really good process, because you couldn't just take something for granted and just pull the director card and do it. And then, yeah, then then there was a seminar for the cinematographers I think, in second year, where one of the teachers told the class A genius thing that changed my life, which is tell your directors to shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, don't spend years fundraising don't spend years developing, because it's a trap, like many of my friends that they're still fundraising, they're still developing something and have been for 10 years. And they never shot a frame, because they kind of missed that momentum. And it's hard to get that back out of nowhere. So my, my cinematographer called me every day and said, Are we shooting something yet? And I always said, I don't have a script. Doesn't matter. Let's shoot something. And that's exactly what we did. We kind of looked for a story.
Alex Ferrari 9:54
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Daniel Stamm 10:03
That would support us not having any money because no one had any money you're coming out of film school, you're completely broke. Digital was, this was in 2004, kind of you could shoot digital, but it was still kind of expensive. So another seminar, Dave, I actually taught you to concentrate on what you have and build your project, your first project after film school around that rather than trying to achieve things that you don't have. So if you know a great actor, you know, write something for that actor, if you know a great location, build something about that if you have access to crazy, advanced camera, you know, when construct something where you can show that up. And we were sitting down, and we basically said, Okay, we have nothing, whatever, something, but what you have in Los Angeles, of course, which is a tragedy for them, but great for us is you have so many good actors out of work, then heart would do anything for no money. And if you can just find them and give them something worthwhile to do. You don't really have to pay them. So we we decided that we make a fake documentary, which at the time that was kind of before the whole fake documentary, wave like bread player, which had been made five years earlier, but had kind of not really spawned any any new movies yet. This was before paranormal activity and all that. And we thought if we shoot in that format, we don't have to light anything. And everything can look greedy, and bad. And it doesn't matter. Because if it looks bad, that's just adding to the realism of it all. So let's shoot in that style, we just get a video camera that one of our actors had, and we we borrowed it from him. And then we came up with a story that there is a filmmaker, documentary filmmaker and film school. And for his thesis project, he is finding a suicidal guy on Craigslist, and basically is following him through this last week. And of course, there are all kinds of complications. They're becoming friends and sound girl is far he's falling in love with a sound girl. And I've kind of all kind of complicated, right, but we had four pages, you know, we didn't have a script, and I was so traumatized from AFI from the process of working with a screenwriter. Because me as a screenwriter, myself, of course, we were bumping heads all the time. So what I why I wouldn't have shot anything for a decade probably like everyone else, is that I was so exhausted. And even the thought of getting together with the screenwriter again, and writing something kind of sounded crazy, to me. So this, this project that we went into with a four page outline, was kind of perfect. And then we improvised all the scenes with the actors, and made that movie, the downside was, because we didn't have a script, there was never, it was never over, you know, we were kind of improvising scenes into the blue. And if something didn't work, then we would just shoot more scenes and shoot more material. And it took us three years to make the movie in the end. And of course, the toughest thing is to just support yourself while you're making a movie. And you're kind of fanatically single mindedly focused on making that movie, but at the same time, you kind of have to eat and pay rent and all that stuff. So that was a tough time. But in the end, at some point it was it was done. And then we submitted it to AFI fest to the festival, at which we were always told FYI, graduates don't get into AFI fest, because they don't want to be seen as kind of leaning towards their own people and all that stuff. But somehow we got in, and we won the Audience Award, which was a big thing at the time. Because other films that had won the Audience Award, we're like Hotel Rwanda, and life is beautiful, and all these kind of big movies. And suddenly, there was our small movie in between there that no one had ever heard about.
Jason Buff 13:46
You have an unnecessary death?
Daniel Stamm 13:49
Unnecessary death Netflix right now.
Jason Buff 13:51
Oh, really? Oh, great. Yeah, I've watched a lot of the I watched the some of the footage you put on YouTube? Oh, yeah, those, but I was trying to I was trying to watch it. And yeah, that's great.
Daniel Stamm 14:02
Oh, that must have been so weird to just watch the deleted scenes of stuff. You approach.
Jason Buff 14:09
So let me talk a little bit about that. You know, in terms of improvisation, how would you guys like say you're going out to shoot one day? What how would you, you know, put that together?
Daniel Stamm 14:20
Well, I think the main thing is to in the beginning, understand that it's a completely different talent to have for an actor to be good at improvising, than to be good at making written lines come to life and appear fresh. And as if they're being said for the first time. One of my actors put that really well that there is a different part of your brain that processes making up lines for the first time rather than regurgitating lines. And that's something that a lot of producers are later learned don't really know about like if you're making an input project, then you have to cast improv people. It doesn't make any sense to give them a scene and lines and see if they Don't make that come to life because it won't help you in the moment at all. So I was very much focused on finding great improvisers. And what you kind of get as a bonus, is that you end up with very smart people, because improvising takes a lot of brain power. And you have to be very fast thinking on your feet. And you have to be very high energy, which is really important. I didn't know that at the time, but you really are looking for someone who has higher energy than real life, like if you take people that are very authentic, but they all kind of are either normal life speed or slightly slower, it'll bore you to death on camera, and you kind of have to try to make up for it, and editing and all that kind of stuff. And it's hard. So luckily, I ended up with very eloquent very smart people. And then we kind of went out and I always gave them a paragraph and said, Okay, this is the scene we're coming from. The great thing is that you can shoot in chronological chronological order, which is huge, of course, for the actors to be able to kind of base their performance on the scene, you're just coming from which you don't have normal narrative movies, because they're always scheduled by location. And sometimes you shoot the climax, third at first, and then go back to the third act first, and then go back to the first act, and all that kind of stuff. So a lot of rain power always goes to kind of reminding the actors where they're coming from and all that. So that was easier for us because they knew where we were coming from, but I would summarize it for them again, and then kind of tell everyone what they are trying to achieve in the scene and not give them the outcome and just kind of give them the intention that they are going into the scene with, and really talk that up to them. And sometimes take them aside and talk to them separately so that they don't overhear what the other person's objective is. And then we would just shoot and shoot and shoot. And because it was video, we didn't have to, you know, care about how much material we were shooting. So the first take was always 20 minutes long. And then we did the second take. And I kind of pointed out which the great moments were. And we boil it down to 10 minutes, and then two, five minutes and into two minutes and into one minute. And in the end, we ended up cutting all these things together. And oftentimes, we ended up with the first tag, both parts of the first check, because it was kind of the freshest, because it was the first time that they would come up with this stuff, and kind of keep it as fresh as possible. I would always say new words, make up new words, don't repeat stuff that you've said in the last take the way you said it in the last check, keep the ideas, but phrase it differently, try different things try to surprise each other. And they were up for that. And they really loved each other, which was great, because we spend, as I said three years together, kind of making up stuff together. And if there had been one bad apple in that group, I think it would have been really problematic. But it was a really great group of four core group of four people. And the only the team only consisted of those four people, and then my cinematographer and me a good sound. So altogether, we were six people. And
Jason Buff 17:56
I see you're directing and doing sound.
Daniel Stamm 18:00
That kind of work that was the problem is like very do it yourself, we didn't have a single location permit or anything, if necessary, we could cram the entire team plus equipment into a car, if we didn't have a location, we would just shoot the scene in the car. It was like very fast, you know, if nothing took big setup, it's really a big relief. If you don't have to make it pretty, you know, you don't have to light it pretty, you don't have to find a great location. But you go for realism, all that stuff, all the design stuff is off your chest, you just have to as a director, it's hard. And as a cinematographer, too, it's hard to let that go because it kind of it does something to your ego that in the beginning is very uncomfortable. But then after a couple of days, you kind of switch to that my cinematographer. He's such a good cinematography, he's Hungarian. And he would kind of if he could, he would shoot black and white high contrast, you know, that reads like a very much Sigmund disciple. And it was really hard for him to switch to making it ugly. And he would frame things so perfectly that from every now and then while we were shooting, I would have to bump into him. So that the camera and then after a week, he came to me and he said I get it now I get it. The big breakthrough for him was that he started listening to the, to the actors, which he wasn't used to because the cinematographers are so focused on the framing on the image, that usually they don't listen to the actors, but because he had to listen to the actors, because they were suddenly pointing something out outside of frame that he would have to pan over and show that in the beginning. Some actors were like, Oh, look over there and the camera would stay on the actor. And I would always have to tap him on the shoulder and kind of pan over and after. He kind of totally switched to that. So that was great. So that would be my big advice. I think about making your first movie Don't I know it's tempting to really let your creative juices flow and to write something the French Revolution or something in outer space or something I
Alex Ferrari 20:01
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Daniel Stamm 20:10
But it will never get made like the Hollywood is so fear driven, that no executive will give you that that will give you money to make your first movie, that's the problem, you have to have made a movie to Make Your First Movie and short films don't count. That's the problem. I know that short films are great to kind of learn stuff for yourself. But it's a total illusion that you can show a great short film. And someone will say you are displaying such talent that now we're gonna give you millions and millions to make your first feature. I think that was the case once and there are a couple of famous examples where that might have happened. But that's like one in a million to bet your career on that was kind of crazy. So I think what you do have to shoot for these days is to make a feature naked, as independently as possible. If you're waiting for someone else to give you the green light, I can promise you that you will never shoot like if you rely on someone else's money, you get all these all these stories where someone prepared and prepped and they were ready to shoot. And then everything fell apart. Like almost every story ends like that. Yeah,
Jason Buff 21:14
It's really funny that you're saying that because you're you're almost exactly describing the scenario that I went through, because we had a screenplay, and we had all these investors and all these things that were going on. And it completely, you know, I kept waiting and waiting and waiting for everything to be perfect. And then it fell apart, you know. So now what we're doing is just taking the money that we have, and we're going out and shooting something, you know, just getting out and shooting and making something you know what I mean?
Daniel Stamm 21:39
Yeah, and that's the hardest step. You know, because I think filmmakers are kind of perfectionist by nature. So it's the impulse is, I think, very common to wait for perfect conditions. But perfect conditions will never be there. And money will always go away. Like my whole whole first movie cost $3,000. Altogether, like everything was on we we got used tapes, and we taped over the dailies of day, after tomorrow, we get Everyone brought their own lunch, I didn't have any money to do anything, I was sleeping on a friend's couch at times. Like it wasn't very, very clear. I promised everyone no one will ever make a dime from this, which changed everything because suddenly it's okay for everyone to work for free. If they know that you also are putting in all the work, and you swear to them that you will never make a dime from it. You know, like the Netflix money, we were giving away to charity, because I have to keep up this promise that no one can ever make any money from this movie. And that helps it freed everything up. And everyone kind of contributed and brought their editing system and their camera and their sound equipment and their this and that. And it was kind of a really good time. But all that started with finding a story that you can shoot in a in a non pretty way, and how that really helped me later. I mean, I was lucky with all this stuff. Because what I learned what I didn't know coming out of film school is that you have to do something that Hollywood that is new and worthwhile to Hollywood like the other thing is that no one in Hollywood will ever help you just out of the goodness of their heart, you have to get to a place somehow, where you have something that they want, you know. And coming out of film school, of course, we always thought we have to emulate Hollywood, like the biggest thing to us was like getting a helicopter shot. Like if we could get helicopter shot, then we've made it, which is complete nonsense. Because the one thing that Hollywood has is money, like they can have all the holidays, other helicopter shots that they want, it's not going to impress them, if you have a great stunt, it's not going to impress them, they you have to give them something where they go like, Oh, we didn't have that before. And it's not. So it can't be about money. That was the big revelation afterwards that we luckily went the right direction, out of dumb luck because we didn't have money. So we really focused on performances and getting very authentic moments and kind of making this heart wrenching drama thing. And because all the all that we had was time, there's always this kind of saying that you have to have quality, time and money. You have to you can choose to you can either get something great and make it cheaply, but it will take a long time. Or you can make something great and it will take forever, or it will be fast, but it won't be cheap and all these things. And I think that is really true. So we didn't have money, but we had all the time in the world. And we wanted to make something great. So we kind of concentrated on that. And then when we had made the movie, it turned out that that's exactly what Hollywood was looking for at the time because the fake documentary thing was just coming up and was becoming popular. And they were looking for someone to be able to work in that medium and get great performances out of it. So that's how I got my first kind of studio job with the Lionsgate project that then became The Last Exorcism.
Jason Buff 24:57
Okay, did you was there the idea when you went up Shoot that it's like, since we're shooting video, let's just try. If we shoot like, say an hour, let's try to have at least five minutes of that big goal that we can cut out, or it was that kind of your process with I mean, back in those days, I think that shooting in video, and shoot, you know, if you're shooting that in film, you have to kind of be like, Okay, we have to get it on this take in it, you're not afforded that when you're shooting video, it's a lot easier.
Daniel Stamm 25:25
It's, it's huge for the creative process. Someone said that in an acting workshop at AFI. And it was amazing that the most valuable words that you can ever say as a director is, I don't know, let's try it, it might not work, which is exactly the opposite of what you think a director should do. Because you always have the feeling, the director has to have the vision and has to know exactly what they want. And they have to be able to communicate it to everyone and then everyone is trying to hit that on the nail somehow. And if you do that, then that's that's a lot of pressure to put on all your creative collaborators because they have to kind of try to hit your vision exactly. But if you say guys, I don't really have a vision, let's just play an experiment, and we'll come up with something together, then suddenly, you take all that pressure away from them, and you allow them to contribute. Everyone's waking up and going like, oh my god, they want my input. They don't just want me to execute something that they have preconceived, but they actually want me to be involved in the creative process itself. And suddenly you get stuff that is not filtered through one mind. You know, if you are that kind of filmmaker, that is that is kind of exerting that power and putting the your vision on everyone, then that means that everything that ends up on screen is filtered through your mind. And if you're a genius, that might be great if you're a David Fincher or you know, Orson Welles or whatever, but I'm not, you know, and I know that. And so it's a big asset to me to get a group of people together, that I think are funny, and witty, and brilliant and fast, and get all these American ideas and these moments in the scenes together, and then be able to cut my scene together from all these moments that I didn't preconceived, but that were little gifts that came out during shooting, and they only came out because I gave them that freedom to just play and try stuff out. And some stuff will be totally off and will not work out. But that's fine, because we're shooting on video. And it's not that every second is golden, because we're shooting on film, every second cost so much money. But video really allowed me to kind of open that up. And say we have the whole day for these three scenes. Let's just see what happens. And there was always there wasn't a single day, when there weren't moments coming up that were completely surprising and a complete gift. And over three years, honestly, I never went home, not being totally ecstatic about a day. And that's I think the only thing that can get you through this long shoot, you know, because that's the only payoff you have is that if you lie in bed at night, you got I can't believe that moment happened today that look between two people happen today that line that idea that this that. And it's just it's the most satisfying thing. And you never get that with a script. Because with a script, or you rarely get that with a script, because with a script, you have a very preconceived idea of what the scene is going to be and how it's going to look. And most of the time, the best thing you can do is to kind of achieve that it's rare that you suddenly see something come to life in front of you that is so much better than what you had imagined in your wildest dreams in your in your mind.
Jason Buff 28:26
Can you You told a story that I heard before about your screening in Kosovo. I was wondering if you could talk about that for just a second. Yeah. It's really interesting.
Daniel Stamm 28:35
Yeah, no, that was crazy. Because we I was at a Kosovo film film festival with my thesis film, and then they invited me back a year later to be in the jury. Or a couple of years later, I guess, because I did bring a rough cut off unnecessary death. And there were three people in the jury and everyone was was screening some feature film project of theirs. And my colleagues films. This sounds very arrogant, but I thought I thought were clever. They were great. But they weren't necessarily mind blowing. But the audience went crazy standing ovations and I was like, Oh, my God, this is the best audience ever can't wait, and not wait to show the rough cut off unnecessary data. And it was something that my editor had put together. It was a cut that I hadn't even seen. So I was excited to see it. And we're screening the movie, and the movie is over. And I'm getting ready for my standing ovation. And for people to come up. Give me an Oscar. And there was silence, absolute terrifying silence. And then there was like one person which is the worst silence would have been I thought in the moment was the worst thing that could happen. But then I learned seconds later. That's the second worst. Because then someone in the last row started clapping like this, which is like in a western when you want it to slow clap.
Alex Ferrari 29:57
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.
Daniel Stamm 30:06
Western when you want to show silence, you don't just have it silent, but you have like a kod how there's like a Cricket Cricket. And I didn't get it, I was so impressed at taken with my own creation up there. And the great thing about tech documentaries is also because everyone is contributing, you don't have to be an egomaniac to love the product because it's everyone's creative together. Yeah. So I was really amazed by the thing, and couldn't wrap my mind around why no one was responding to it, I thought it was so powerful. And then I was walking down the steps to do the q&a. And I turned around, and everyone was kind of moving in the audience, which was weird, because normally, for q&a, you just stay in your seats, and you don't get up and you don't walk, but people were walking out or running around or whatever. And when I realized there were people in the audience that had broken down, and their friends were kind of gathering around them and pulling them back up to their feet, and we're talking to them or whatever, whatever. And next to me was a girl that was rocking back and forth. And she had her hand in her face and her hands and the tears were running down her forearms. And that's when I realized, wait a minute, they didn't understand that this wasn't a real documentary. I didn't announce that beforehand. I didn't mean to fool anyone. It just wasn't a situation where you kind of would have announced it. And they were reacting to it as if they had just seen this guy kill himself on camera. And because the the character is a very lovable character, they were devastated by it. And I was running around was the worst feeling because you had, it's as if you had dropped this bomb on these people. And they were seriously hurt. So I was running around, trying to tell everyone that this is a fictional film, and they didn't get it when I would say match the suicidal guy. So there was Matt was the suicidal guy. And Gilbert was the filmmaker that was following him. And I would I would tell someone who had broken down, Matt is an actor. The first first reply I got was like, does Gilbert know Gilbert as an actor, too, like it was so. And then there was one girl, an American girl, as you as you would imagine, that was attacking me. She was jumping at me. And she grabbed me by the collar. And she shocked me. And she was this tiny girl, but she was just in ninja mode or something. And she screamed at me, You're a murderer. You shouldn't be allowed to make movies. And then her friends dragged her off. And then the organizer, the organizer of the festival came up to me and whispered in my ear and said Stay where you are. Don't go outside, there is a mob gathering to deal with, which is exactly the words you don't want to hear in Kosovo that had just been through murders for, right. The last thing you want is the month that's given.
Jason Buff 32:59
And it's bad when you're the worst thing.
Daniel Stamm 33:01
And it was it was devastating. And then I phoned my team, my editor and say, We got to recut this movie, we got to change the ending. People were devastated. And she said, Well, isn't that what we were going for? Which is true, it is a tragedy. So you kind of want to evoke these emotions. But it felt as if we were playing unfairly. And for the first time this whole sentence with there is responsibility and filmmaking, and you have to take responsibility and filmmaking. I understood what that was about. I'd never understood that whenever people were talking about, oh, Oliver Stone with Natural Born Killers got people to kill other people. I always thought, well, that's a powerful movie, if you can achieve that, you know, obviously the movie work. It's a tragedy for the people that died. But is it really up to the to the filmmaker to prevent that from happening. And after seeing that in action in Kosovo, it just wasn't fun. It wasn't a rewarding feeling of oh, look, what we were able to do. We just never thought about the why, you know, we worked so hard on trying to to affect an audience emotionally, which you always do when you make a movie that I never stopped to think well, why are we doing this to them, we just try to get them to feel bad, but we don't give them anything in exchange. And that was kind of an epiphany to me. And then we did recut the movie, screened at South by Southwest and then screened at AFI Fest and won the Audience Award, which I think we wouldn't have if we hadn't recut the movie, but it definitely was counterintuitive. To say our movie is the sounds very arrogant again, but our movie is too powerful for the audience to consume. We have to water it down. But that's kind of exactly what we do. And I think it was the right decision.
Jason Buff 34:43
That's really interesting. You know, can you talk about when you say give them anything in exchange and you know that you went back and re cut it? What did you recut and what what was the what was really the difference between the version they saw in Kosovo and the one that was at AFI
Daniel Stamm 34:59
The big diff Once was the ending, we had shot two endings, one which was very straight up just to spoil it all spoil the whole movie in the end, that's the suicidal guy. And Gilbert, the filmmaker, they're going into garage together, and Matt is going to shoot himself and Gilbert has gone on film that. And one ending was we stay outside and we hear the shot. And then there's silence for a minute. And when Gilbert comes out, and we see the inkling of Matt on the floor, and he has shot himself in the head, and you can see on Gilbert's face that what he just saw was so nightmarish that you'll never, never be able to forget that. And he kind of is paying the price for for his ambition to become a great filmmaker. Whenever there was one ending, which we showed in Kosovo, which played it very straight. You know, there's this guy who is announcing his kind of kill himself, and then he killed himself, you know, the entire time what's going to happen, and you always kind of hope some miracle will happen. But guess what, the miracle doesn't happen. And that's it. And that was just devastating people. The other ending that we had shot was that we stay outside of the garage, we hear the shot. And then there's a pause, and then we hear a second shot. And it takes us a moment to understand what was going on. And we someone runs to open the garage, and both of them are on the floor. And it turns out that net has shot Gilbert before he shot himself because of a whole subplot with a sound girl who was Gilbert's ex girlfriend. And net was in love with her and Gilbert, who wanted Matt to kill himself took the girl away from him to not give him a reason to live in that kind of stuff. So he shot Gilbert, which was the much more Hollywood twist, ending and played much less straight and much less real. And it felt like that's exactly what people need it, they needed something that was telling time for tipping it off and say it's alright, this is a movie, here's a heightened reality, and also to punish Gilbert in a more conventional way for manipulating this guy that we've fallen in love with, into suicide. And now he paid the price by killing him by himself by being killed. So that kind of seemed to work. I think that was the main, the main thing. And I think in general, it's always, like you want to take something away from a story. I think that's the basis of storytelling that kind of communicate and insight into the world and into the human experience through a story and you put your audience through different emotions and make them invested in the thing. But it's all with the with the implied promise that they will get something out of watching this for two hours, that no one else knows they will be let into a secret, you know, that they can take away into their life with and we didn't really supply that secret. I had a few I was basically saying, Here's a movie that will make you miserable and teach you nothing. And that's responded, that was a problem at the time. Yeah,
Jason Buff 37:48
I think that's really, you know, interesting, because with all the like horror movies, the whole concept of a horror movie, is that you're going to watch something that's horrible, you know, that's something that's terrible. But there has to be some element of it, that attracts people to it that makes people want to experience that, you know, and gives them that like experience. One of the interesting things you said when you were working on The Last Exorcism, and I want to go into that in just a second is just that the documentary format doesn't give the audience a place to hide. And I thought that was really, you know, interesting, it's like you have more power doing that.
Daniel Stamm 38:26
Because you have to first person narrative, people are looking right into camera, and the cinematographer is a character in the film, he's not kind of this invisible floating camera. But there is a direct proxy for you as an audience member in the movie. And if there is danger coming towards the camera, it's coming towards you. And it's, you're kind of aware that there's danger coming from 360 degrees with a narrative, conventional movie, you can always kind of count on them, showing you what you need to see. Like, if there's something that's important for you, as the audience member to see and not to miss, they will make sure that they cut to that close up or that insert or that whatever. And that kind of gives you a certain safety because you are being taken by the hand and guided through the story by someone who already knows the path of the story. But with a fake documentary. It's all about the stuff that you miss, and that you don't see. So that you keep the audience on their toes about you know what we might be showing you this side of the room right now. But that doesn't mean something can jump out behind you at any moment. Because you know what, we don't really know what's going to happen. And this we don't really know what's going to happen, I think is really a very important component in effect documentary, especially in horror.
Jason Buff 39:40
Right! And you see that a lot with me and you know, Spielberg use that and Saving Private Ryan, the idea of, you know, and you see that in a lot of films that you'll have a scene that's all handheld and shot like a documentary, even though it's in a traditional narrative film, right.
Alex Ferrari 39:56
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Jason Buff 40:05
You know, just to give people that feeling of uneasiness, and that at any minute, something could kind of, you know, affect your point of view or whatever. Yeah,
Daniel Stamm 40:13
I think the other component is that moving, moving images, just stimulate the viewer and kind of put it in energy into the thing that the brain has to process. So you are, there's just more happening on a very simple, simple way. And if you have a locked off shot from a tripod, whatever is moving is just the object in the frame. But 90% of what you're seeing on screen doesn't move. Whereas as soon as you go handheld, that means every single piece of grain will have been in film world, but now pixel moves it in at any split second. So I think there is something that is just kind of overwhelming to the brain. And that really kind of pumps up the adrenaline just by the virtue of going handheld. And the other thing that I found out about handheld that was amazing to me, and I still don't have an explanation for it was when I was watching large countries, the idiots he has, everything is handheld, and the performances are amazing. And then for some reason, there's some scene in the woods that is like a minute long, where he's suddenly aesthetic on a tripod. And suddenly, the performances suck. And I realized that handheld for some reason, really helps out your performances, like everything gets better. If you go handheld, maybe that is because the audience can't focus on every single twitch in the face at any moment. Like if the if there is a stale performance, probably if you have Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, and John Malkovich, you're fine, you probably don't have to go handheld. But if you if you have performances that are on the on the stellar side, going handheld suddenly gives the whole thing of vital effect that you otherwise wouldn't get. I don't know what it is. But I swear as soon as you try it out, you'll see that your performances get much better and
Jason Buff 42:10
Yeah, definitely. I think that, you know, it's also the concept that you're capturing something that's really happening in the cameras, not like the cameras not ahead of the action, right, you know, the cameras following the action and seeing things, you know, all of a sudden, and you see this a lot in The Last Exorcism that you know, as they're moving through a scene. It's like the camera is like, it'll go over and capture something and you're like, oh, did I just see that? Or what was that? You know what I mean? It's like, it adds a lot more dynamic feel to it.
Daniel Stamm 42:40
That's really hard to simulate for the cinematographer. If you're on take 20 And you've worked for him to kind of pretend he is very surprised by what just came into frame is kind of an art form in itself.
Jason Buff 42:53
Okay, well, why don't we jump into that? Can we talk for a little bit about how the Last Exorcism started, how you got involved meeting with Eli Roth, all of that story.
Daniel Stamm 43:06
So I have made Last Exorcism and Last Exorcism head one the audience, necessary death and the Audience Award, which changes everything that will be my next piece of advice for the starting filmmaker, make that feature, and then try to get it into festivals, because Hollywood, like very few people in Hollywood, I think, have, taste and rely on their own. It's true. It's really crazy. Like I get, I get scripts, from studios that are so bad, that you've got like, who not only who wrote this, but which executive read it and said, That's a good idea. Let's make this movie. And that's 90% of all scripts. And it's I think it's really rare. There's a handful of people in Hollywood that trust their own opinion and what they will, what the other people will rely on is other gatekeepers that at some point, put a stamp of approval on that project and film festivals, big film festivals with a good reputation. Do that like if you screen at Cannes, or at South by Southwest, some Sundance or AFI fest, or LA Film Festival or something bigger, and you screen there, that's already great. If you win an audience award there or a jury award there, suddenly people will take your movie seriously. And they will think the movie is great, even maybe if it isn't, but they don't really do to have their own experience. So suddenly, after the Audience Award, there were a lot of agents and managers that that wanted to meet. And I learned that because always like everyone always wants an agent and thinks their career will really hit hit off, hit it off when they have an agent, which is nonsense. And also an agent will never want you like an agent that you have to approach will never want you you have to make something again, that that agent finds desirable and And he wants you. So this whole knocking on people's doors that people are always trying is not going to work. But you have to kind of get the approval of the stamp of approval from some festival if possible, and then they will knock on your doors. Anyway. So we did the rounds with the agents, and found an agent. And we were looking at different scripts and couldn't find anything. And then I had the feeling I had done unnecessary death. And I had this feeling I really want Jacob Foreman to see this movie check. A foreman was a screenwriter in my year, who wrote all the boys love Mandy Lane was a really good guy. But we never had never had that much to do with each other at AFI. And I don't know where this feeling came from, that I wanted him to see the movie, but it was just a really strong feeling. So I emailed him and said, I made this movie. Can I send it to you? And she said, Sure, send it to me. I sent it to him. I don't think he liked it much, because he never commented on it. But what happened like a week or two later, was that he was writing a screenplay for a production company called Strike entertainment. And they had had two directors Hochberg CO and Andrew Gerlinde. On this movie called cotton, which was an exorcism will be a fake documentary exorcism movie. And they're the two directors left the project because they had another project with Will Will Ferrell at the same time called the virginity hit. And they had to decide which one to make. And they were under obligation with Sony to make the virginity it's a suddenly, this project didn't have directors, and Jacob, in during a lunch break or something overheard two producers say, man, we lost our directors, where are we going to find someone who can do a fake documentary horror Jacob had in his bag, you know, which I don't believe in fate, or the supernatural or anything like that. But I have no explanation for how that okay. And he gave them the movie. And they watched it. And it obviously wasn't a horror movie, but it was exactly the format that they wanted. And so they called me the next day and sent me the script, and wanted to meet. And the script was, I think I can say it now all these years later, was horrendous. And it was also wasn't written towards a fake documentary, because in a fake documentary, if you really want to sell it as real, then you can have something spectacular happen in every single scene, because the audience will figure out after two scenes, that this is obviously not a real documentary, like in a real documentary, if you catch one amazing moment on camera, people structure a whole documentary around that, you know, so this script kind of had some action sequence with people flying through the air and every scene and just didn't work. And I went and I had no interest in making the movie. And I went into the, into the meeting, if I had wanted to make the movie, I think I would have been really, really nervous. But because I basically just came there to say, your script sucks, I'm not going to do it. I wasn't nervous at all. So I told them that very bluntly, no diplomacy involved. And I learned then that there's nothing sexier to Hollywood executives than you not wanting to do their project. Because they always They're not stupid. They know that the script that they have out there is not brilliant and needs work, as they always call it a call, it needs a Polish. But Polish always needs a complete rewrite. And they kind of know that and then they invite all these directors like 1020 directors to come in. And 19 of those directors say this is brilliant, I want to do this. I'm the right guy for this. And there is one guy who comes in and says the script doesn't work. I don't want to do it. Then suddenly they want the one guy that didn't want to do it I had that, that people have for other projects that they called and said, we've shown it to 10 directors, nine of them love it. You didn't want to do it, could you come in for a second meeting, go with one of the people that want to do it. But they want to hear that you have ideas how to make it better and all that. And I basically came out of that meeting with them saying you can do with the script, whatever you want. You can hire your own writer, you can completely rewrite it. We'll give you one and a half million dollars, do it. And that was exactly what I needed to hear. Because then I brought a writer on board that I loved. That's a genius who completely rewrote the movie within four days or something. And then, yeah, Eli was attached. I didn't talk to him in the beginning. I think couple of weeks later, we had a call scheduled and now I was nervous because I suddenly was talking to like a horror legend Eli Roth, I think he was on the Inglorious Basterds set in his trailer and had just seen unnecessary death and was super nice and super complimentary and stuff. And then we went to make the movie and they let me bring on my cinematographer, my editor. And there was a little bit of a struggle. What I mentioned before that they because they've never made a fake documentary. They didn't couldn't quite wrap their head around the the improv thing. Like they said we need to see casting tapes.
Alex Ferrari 50:00
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Daniel Stamm 50:09
If we can only judge casting tapes, auditions, if we see actors that are doing the same scripted scene, and then we can compare the quality and I said, Well, that's completely useless. Because even if it's a great scene and written, it's not going to help you in an improv, they said, we have to do it anyway. So I always had to make the actors read the scene. And before I knew it wasn't gonna make a difference. But for the producers, it was important. And then we went off to Louisiana to New Orleans to shoot the movie. And the great thing was that this company strike entertainment had made all these 100 million dollar movies with Brad Pitt and Robert Redford and whatever, whatever. And they had never made a movie under $80 million. So they had no idea what to do with our little $1.5 million movie. So they didn't take it seriously. They mentored when they said, do whatever you want, they meant that they completely stayed out of it. So the conditions were very close to what we had unnecessary death with a couple of more people, obviously, and the unions required us to have all these people. But there was a whole camera team that we never needed, that was just coming in eating doughnuts, and going. In the end, I wanted that because I wanted to recreate that intimacy. That was the big strength of working in that format that you don't have 50 people staring at the actors and that you don't, for example, have to use the slate because it turned out to me that clapping the slate and going I've seen 14 Go action basically communicates to the actors now create artifacts, now try to someone you are not, you know. So I always try to avoid slating or we would slate in the other room quietly, secretly, and then cut over with a camera. I didn't want them to act, I basically wanted them to be themselves and put ourselves into the situation. And we never showed the script to the actors with Last Exorcism, we had a script all written out, which we needed for the investors and for the production company, and all that kind of stuff. But it was like my best hidden secret was this script. I knew if I ever showed that to the actors, it will be impossible to get that out of their heads. Again, it makes them created from scratch, and come up with all these fresh moments, because they would just try to reproduce the script. And it's amazing. If you watch the movie, and read the script, how close the two are, I think no one would believe me, if I if someone who had read the script and seen the movie wouldn't have never believed that the actors never saw the script. But I think it's the same technique. You tell them what motivation they go into the scene with, which is actually very similar to what you do with a movie that has a script, you know, you talk to the actors about where they're coming from, and where they want to go. And then let them go and kind of see how that goes. And that's how we did last exorcism. And then we came back from this from this experience that was just really great. And started editing. And suddenly everyone was very involved, suddenly had a lot of producers in the editing room that helped. And the ending, like if you've seen last exorcism, the thing that was great about the original script was the ending. And that was like the one thing that I was excited about, which was, This only makes sense if you've seen Last Exorcism. But the original ending was they go into the forest, they see a shadow, they see they hear the noises of the demon, and they run and they don't get killed. And they they reappear a week later and cotton. Our our excesses now has a full church with hundreds of people. And he's a celebrity and he gets his own TV show. And he's, you know, he's a star because he has, he has gotten a demon or as close as possible on video. And he's basically marketing that. And what was so smart about it, is that the whole movie, he tells us what a successful evangelical preacher needs, he needs a hook, you know, which is the demon on the on video. And everything cotton does in his little frog is based on sound, and it's based on lighting and all that kind of stuff. And basically, in the end, it's just the huge version of that. So I wanted the audience to leave the movie as split as they had come in with a believer saying no, I saw a demon. And with this, the cynics, the atheists saying Oh, it's just, it's basically a big PR video. And this exorcist used us and showed us the stuff for financial gain. And I thought that was the smartest thing that you come out of a movie and you don't even know if you just saw a horror movie. Or if you just saw a drama about a preacher that has a great marketing idea. You know, that was our most expensive scene because it needed green screen for the demon and it needed all these extras and the location of the church and all that stuff. And then we cut it together. And it didn't work like I showed it to 10 friends And out of those 10 Friends, one, one friend thought it was the greatest ending he'd ever seen. And nine friends were completely confused, and said, We don't know what just happened. And I learned that you can, you can ask a question and not answer it in a movie. But it has to be clear that you're asking the question. And with our ending, it wasn't even clear that we wanted the audience to wonder about whether this was fake or not. They, they didn't even know what the question was. And we couldn't, we couldn't make it work. And then, of course, I had had my shot. And now it was opened up to the group. So every producer, every cousin of a producer, or the, you know, the cleaning lady of a producer suddenly had ideas about the ending. And then we ended up with one that I don't think does justice to the rest of the movie. But it was the best out of the bunch. And to this day, I don't have a better idea. And I live lie awake at night for having screwed up the ending, especially because there was a thing to go in with. But I guess you never get that second chance. It will always be like that.
Jason Buff 56:04
Well, it's really difficult to especially when you're doing a movie like that, I don't know, there's very few movies that have like completely satisfying ending when it comes to like kind of putting together a mystery what's going on, they eventually figure it out. And then the ending is never quite like the build is a lot more important. You know, that's what keeps you going through it.
Daniel Stamm 56:24
It's so weird, though, I totally agree. But you work towards that any most of the time you have that ending before you have anything else, and then you built the entire movie, to move towards that ending, like in screenwriting, you know that as a screenwriter, you need to know where you're going. So the ending is, you know, the big payoff that you are working towards and can't wait to show to the audience. And then the outcome for some reasons exactly what you're describing that it's always weaker than it needs to be because there's all this expectation on it after the two hour build up. And then to pay that office really hard. You almost need like finishers head in the box in seven or eight Fight Club, he's good with the endurance that kind of pull the rug right under, but it's rare. It's true. Right.
Jason Buff 57:07
Now, um, I got so into listening to you. I was thinking about my next question. How did you in terms of finding like Ashley Bell in the actors? How was that process?
Daniel Stamm 57:18
Well, that was it was equally hard, because our casting director had no idea how to do the improv thing, and didn't believe in it and didn't really take the project that seriously, which was kind of hard to overcome. And she thought I was a complete delight and didn't know what I was doing when she didn't tell me to my face. But there was a friend, an actor who was a friend of mine, which she didn't know. And he was auditioning, and she was pitching to him about me not knowing what I wanted, which is exactly to I didn't know what I want. But that was the point. It was the point of keep it open, keep it free and whatever. Yeah, which I just did improv with the actors, which I still do now with projects that have a script, even if I know they're only going to, to do scripted lines, because it very quickly tells you something about the energy and the IQ of the actor, if they have to come up with their own moments, you know. And it's something I did an internship with a casting director called Melly Finn, who cast all of Cameron. Oh, sure, of course, yeah, Titanic, and Terminator, and all that stuff. And she said, always cast actors not just for how they're acting, but for who they really are. Because when it gets to it, and they are tired, and you don't have time, and you have to rely on them to get you out of that situation, they will always revert to who they really are at their core, which is completely true. But that also means you have to invest in that during the audition. So what I did is I sat in the waiting room, and I pretended to be an actor waiting to go in. And I was just chatting up the actors that were. And it's really interesting moment, because it's stressful for an actor, they are nervous, they're trying to prepare and there's a guy next to them that won't shut up and tries to involve them in some conversation. And how they react to that tells you a lot about who they are, you know, as soon as they know that you are the director, they will be on their best behavior. And you don't really ever have the chance to get to know them for real until you start shooting. So it was important to me to kind of have that moment. And with Ashley, especially like she was so sweet and so supportive. And I think she thought that I was nervous. So she was trying to calm me down because she and it was great. And then she was only the second girl that we saw for that role and she just killed it. Like it was so scary to be in the room with her because we improvise the exorcism.
Alex Ferrari 59:45
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Daniel Stamm 59:54
What kind of, I think in an audition, so you always try to see Hopefully your script has a certain kind of character character development and show at least two sides to a character. One is the starting point and one is the end point. So I think it's smart in auditions to kind of have at least two scenes, one scene each that showcases what you're looking for. And if there is no scene in the script that does that, I think it's worth it to just write a script writer, write a scene for the audition that will never show up in the movie, but just very clearly focuses to see that one side from the actor, because you need to see the range. And then the other thing that I always do is like, no matter how great the first take is in the audition, because sometimes people come in and they just nail it, you always want to do a second take and change something. And that can be completely random, again, has nothing to do with the character or the script. Like sometimes I say, now do it as a five year old child. Now do it as if you are on the electric chair. Now two completely made up stuff. But it tells you something super important. And that is how well can an actor adjust to suggestions to direction, you know, and write some because I learned that the hard way during during my thesis film that someone came in and was just amazing. And then on set, she just couldn't get there. And it turns out that the night before the audition, her boyfriend had split up with her. And she was just so miserable. And the part was about a miserable drug edit. And she was tired, and she just wasn't acting, she was just so great, because that really happened to her. And then on set, she couldn't reproduce that. So since then, I've always tried to make sure that I can only really judge how great an actor is. If you ask them to do different things with the same material with the same lines and see if that's if that's what you're going for. Yeah, so that's how we found Ashley. And then the Exorcist was much harder. We saw hundreds of people. And we asked them to make up a sermon on the spot. And Patrick Fabian came in and he gave this eight minute long, perfect, immaculate service. And was preaching for eight minutes. And he talked so fast that I couldn't follow it. You know, I couldn't. It was actually saying but there was this energy that he had that just made me want to kind of go up, stand up and cheer. And that's where this endless exorcism, the banana bread scene comes from. That was great. I went to you. So basically the The Exorcist that the exorcist says I can tell them anything. I could preach about a banana bread recipe. And they would say hallelujah, and they wouldn't notice. And they make a bet. And he does. That came from the audition scene. Because Patrick Fabian, our exorcist did exactly that. Like he could have talked about anything. And the energy still would have kind of Pinterest made it to the audience the way it was. Right?
Jason Buff 1:02:45
Was it always part of the story that he was, you know, kind of faking it? And he was like, just kind of pulling something it did, because I read something about how it was influenced by that documentary, or Joe Marjo. Yeah. And I just recently watched that, and it's like, it's amazing how much power comes from watching him in that documentary. And there's kind of a similar feel, right? That?
Daniel Stamm 1:03:09
Yeah, I think that that's what I mean, that was the script that I originally got. And I think that was the core idea to the original script, was to watch someone who is not a convinced believer in Exorcist, but doesn't even believe in God. And it's just kind of a fraud. But at the same time, and that's always, I think, important and characters that there is a but in there, he is a criminal, and he's playing with people's tragedies. But he is so charming, that you can't hold it against him. And he's also his argument is undoing this, if they believe in it, and it helps them then great. It doesn't have to be real kind of a thing. So I think this this duality between the rockness and the crime criminal part of him. And the charm is something that really made that character and that's what we were looking for in in the actor too. And it's funny to see Patrick in the different roles, because he's been in so many TV roles. And he's always cast for exactly that person for someone. You know, you can completely trust him. He's a bit, a bit too smooth and stuff, but he gets away with it, because he's just very charming. So you build on that.
Jason Buff 1:04:20
Right! Now, it seems like what you're trying to do and do very successfully in the beginning, is, you know, it's very light. There's a lot of really kind of comic moments, but there is a little bit of a dark, kind of like, you know, when they bring out the book when they start talking about real exorcisms, it's almost like the audience should start getting concerned even though he's not concerned. Like, you know what I mean?
Daniel Stamm 1:04:46
It's such a good observation. Yeah, I think humor is like such a good weapon, because you want to, in any movie you want to you want to create identification between the audience and your protagonist and the first act you want them to like him to want him they want, they should want him to achieve what he is trying to achieve, so that you kind of suffer with them and you enjoy stuff with if it goes well. And humor is a really good tool for that, like if someone is funny you immediately like them. So especially in the horror movie where if you know you want to go horrific in the third act, you need to get the audience to care about that character. Otherwise, it's horrific. If it's just some random people getting beheaded, then no one really cares. So I know that it's tricky to do terrifying and funny at the same time. So I try to stay away from that. But I try to be exactly what you're saying light in the beginning and kind of draw the audience in through humor and fall in love with this character. And then we can go horrific later. But that's exactly what you're saying is so great that it would be great if there was kind of what you call dramatic irony that the audience already has an uneasy feeling. And that, you know, the feeling that the character is walking into a trap. And he doesn't know it, but we know it but we like him by now so much that we fear for him. I think that's a great place. If you have the audience there. In the at the beginning of a horror movie, you're golden.
Jason Buff 1:06:13
Right! Well, you see that a lot with like Jaws and things like that. It's like all the characters are kind of unaware of stuff. But the way things are coming together, the audience is kind of like sitting there trying to hit the brakes, right? Like, no, no, no, no, no, come on, let's let's slow down. Don't don't just run in there with the you know, even though he's doing all these, you know, really kind of funny things with the cross and the sounds and, you know, and you see the father and the way he's acting? Is there like a Can you talk a little bit about getting into the second act and think ways to, uh, you know, one of the things that I was doing is I always try to, you know, I'm working on a screenplay, that's not even a screenplay, but just a story that's got the documentary vibe to it. And what I did when I was watching The Last Exorcism was just kind of watched minute by minute what was happening, and things happen so fast. In the beginning, you get so much story, you know, like, what's going on who this character is what's going on? You know, and by the time he's leaving for, I believe it was Georgia, right?
Daniel Stamm 1:07:13
New Orleans, Louisiana.
Jason Buff 1:07:15
No, yeah. Louisiana. Sorry. I should know that. He, like, it's only like, 10 minutes into the movie, you know? Yeah, that's, or something like first,
Daniel Stamm 1:07:25
I mean, you want to keep that that's the problem, you want to keep your first act as short as possible, because people want to get to the meat of the story. But at the same time, you want to create that identification. If you don't have that, and you leave into the second act. Without that in your pocket. You're screwed. But a lot of that, obviously, is editing to it's amazing. Like my editor and I, we love each other. She was like the priest during my wedding and all that. But man, do we scream at each other during editing, and it's 90% is because she wants to cut stuff out to create momentum. And I am trying to save moments and save scenes, because I've worked so hard, achieving those getting that moment on camera. And, and she's just throwing it out. And I take it personally it's as if she's, you know, cutting a leg of my kid or something. But it always no matter how much I scream and kick and whatever, she always turns out to be right. It's all, always we always end up with the fast version. And that is that something I had to learn that is actually a compliment to your filmmaking because it means you've tried to create 200 meaningful moments throughout the movie. And if you are successful at creating those 200 meaningful, clear and emotional moments, then you don't need 200 of them, then 20 of them are probably enough to tell the story, you know, and wanting all those 200 moments in the movie is just coming out of your insecurity as a filmmaker and your your vanity and your pride that you've created these moments. That actually what I should have heard when she said we don't need that moment is trust the other moments that you've created that are in the movie that they are strong enough to carry this moment, you know, it's the same with with screentime like actors are always we shoot all the stuff like it's a good example the sermon with a banana bread that cotton did. We shot that for a day, and the sermon was 45 minutes long. So of course Patrick Fabian watches the movie and goes like oh here Come my at least 20 minutes of and then he's devastated when it's only 45 seconds of that in the movie. But how he should see that is that those 45 seconds communicate everything we need to know about the character because he's so great in that scene. And that's exactly what you're saying we can get so much information on that character that we don't need the 20 minutes we the 45 seconds are completely okay. And it's the same in editing. So I think when you were saying the first act is how fast it probably in the director's cut was 45 minutes long. Long and unbearable.
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Daniel Stamm 1:10:12
My good thing is that I have a very bad memory. And whenever she wants to get something through, she just cuts it out and sees if I notice it or not. And it shows me something in a week, I don't even notice that that stuff is gone. So we always end up with the tightest version. I think that's something for, for every filmmaker with me, it was a long learning process. So if you could start with the knowledge that you almost can't cut something too fast and too tight, because the audience is so quickly bored, that you if you are precious about your stuff, and you want to stick to the script, and even though the editing rhythms suggest something different to you, you're dead in the water if you don't answer that.
Jason Buff 1:10:58
Well, it's always an interesting contrast, because of course, later, once you get into the more frightening scenes, the whole concept of anticipation and that something is going to happen, you know, then it's just like the scenes go on forever, you know, and everybody's just like waiting for something to happen.
Daniel Stamm 1:11:15
Yeah, it's such a careful balance, because the other thing, and that completely contradicts what I just said about cutting in first. But in some editing book, I think it was Walter merge or something, they wrote that the audience doesn't feel speed, the only thing that they feel is acceleration, which is I think so true. So if you start with a very fast first act, and then you have a very fast second act, and then you have a very fast third act, the whole thing will just seem like in one gear, and won't necessarily feel fast. But if you have a second actor is slightly faster than the first and the third actor is slightly faster than second, then they will suddenly say, Wow, that movie is really fast, even though in general, it wasn't, but it accelerated. And that is something that an audience has a feeling for. And of course, the other way around to what you're talking about, if you slow down, it's suddenly unbearable, because we've gotten used to certain speed, and suddenly deliberately, you you, you stretch a moment, you know, that really does something to the audience's psyche, but it's such a such a balancing act. And that's why this whole wisdom of therapy, what what's the saying, there are three movies, one that you write one that you shoot, and one that you edit, and that's the final movie, I think that is really true. And the more you can subscribe to that, and let go of all the preconceived notions that you had during writing, and then even harder of how hard it was to get that crane shot in that scene. And that, you know, that day that actor was in a bad mood, and a still got a great performance. And none of it matters, the only thing that matters is what ends up in the editing room, my editor makes a point out of never coming to set and not getting to know the actors, because she says she doesn't want to be influenced by the reality of it all. Because the audience is not going to know that they the audience is not going to know the location. No, the actors know that whatever. But she just wants to work with what actually materializes on the screen. And I think that's a really, really good approach. Right?
Jason Buff 1:13:11
Another thing I think that's really interesting with the documentary approach is that you can I mean, you can do this with a regular narrative, but the idea that characters are lying, and that you're finding out the truth behind things, it just, it seems a little more realistic when you're seeing like characters, like when you're talking the two characters, or they find out the girl is pregnant. So right, they have their conversation, and then they talk to the dad and the dead saying stuff and you know, you feel like he's lying, or this person is saying something, and you're trying to get to the truth with that. Yeah. One thing that's always intriguing to me is the whole idea that once you get into the second act, you know, or even the second part of the second act, that the energy kind of dies in a lot of stories. And that's where most movies kind of start to, you know, you start to like kind of wander around the theater. Do you have any any advice on that, or anything that you can talk about in terms of the way you tell a story, you know, like structure it together so that it doesn't fall apart during that area?
Daniel Stamm 1:14:13
It's hard, obviously, because the second I mean, one thing that happened we learned the Syd field three act structure originally. And I think what people always were bumping up against was the second act is too low or too too long. And it kind of, there's a there's a drop in the middle, and then Syd field very smartly invented the midpoint, which is like you have a turning point from the first actor, the secondary of the turning point from the secondary to the third. And now he basically introduced another turning point, which he called the midpoint, where everything shifts in the story. I think that's a big help. And then you just have to you have to keep having ideas. I always have the problem with scripts that I'm getting that I have the feeling. Writers are inventing and having ideas into the second act. If unlucky until the end of the second act, and then it's Oh, then there's violence. And then there is people throwing each other from buildings and shooting and car chases. And it's almost as if they start, stop writing and just say, and then third act generic third act. And I'm always saying, because it's hard to tell your agents what you're looking for, I'm always saying if you can find me a third act that is not based on physical violence on generic physical, and it's hard, especially in horror movies, and slasher movies, because it's always like the big confrontation in the third act. But if you can find me a script that has a confrontation in the third act that is not based on who is drawing his knife first, and steadying the other person first, then I want to read that, and that has to do with with the other thing we were talking about earlier that if you want to give the audience something to take away, and some kind of little bit of an have a piece of knowledge that they didn't have coming in, like how is that going to work? What are they going to learn out of someone drawing, pulling up their knife sooner than the other person, that's not really something you know, the story doesn't resolve in a way that is teaching the audience something about life other than always be armed and always draw your weapon. So that's, that's the main thing I'm looking for. And if the feeling if there is a strong third act, like some something that still has ideas, then the chance that the second act that's leading up to that is strong and not generic, and doesn't slump is much bigger than if the second act is leading towards a generic third act. But it's, it's tough, you really kind of have to, you can't ever be lazy. And you can ever go to like the common places and have things play out. Especially if you're working with a three act structure, because the audience is so savvy, that you, you really kind of have to continue giving them something. So don't start shooting before your script does. What really helps, is telling your script to someone. Like I did that with last excesses without knowing that, like every actor that came in, in the beginning, because they hadn't read the script, I told them the entire story of the script. And watching them by after you've said it so many times, it's kind of an automatic thing, you don't even think about it anymore. So you can have the, the the mental resource to really watch the listener react, and you can tell exactly where they are engaged, and where you are losing them, like I always lost them. At the end, I should have known that. There was always there was always a slump in the third act, that looking back at it now that I should have reacted to we should have rewritten it. But it's really like you have to tough, you have to be tough with yourself in that moment. And it hurts because you don't want to see you don't want to acknowledge that you're losing, you don't want to have to rethink something. But if you don't do it there, then the problem is just gonna get bigger and bigger and bigger. So I guess you have to keep inventing the story until you can tell it in a way that keeps the reader engaged the entire time. And you can tell by like you hear a lot of people telling you their story, like there's so there is a student that falls in love with this girl. And in the end, it turns out, she was a guy all along. And you kind of go like, Well, okay, you told me the first act, you told me the third act, what's the second act, and you can kind of tell that the second act is gonna slump because in the in the three sentence of the elevator pitch version, it doesn't even come into play, you know. So I guess you have to keep working on your overall story until you can tell it in a way where you don't lose the audience ever. And then I think you know that you have a second act that will hold up.
Jason Buff 1:18:43
Do you when you're writing? Do you try to write lots of notes and get everything out? And I mean, do a lot of the work basically have the whole story there before you actually begin the screenwriting process?
Daniel Stamm 1:18:57
I'd be snobbish to talk about because I haven't written the screenplay by myself since film school years ago. I mean, they were always talking. I think that's very true about the inner critic that gets in the way. And we had that very strongly. We had great screenwriting teacher, and she taught us all the techniques. And the result was that we were a class of great script doctors, we always knew what was wrong with stuff. But none of us ever wrote anything again, because what we wrote would never hold up to our expectation. Yeah. So to get this critic out of the way, the only technique that I've ever heard about that does that is to have a notepad for the critic, and just write everything down. You know, give him give him the space to be heard, so that he doesn't get in the way anymore, but then attend to those notes later. Don't let them get into the way of the initial brainstorming flow when you're writing something that really kind of works. And yeah, I do that religiously.
Alex Ferrari 1:19:56
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Daniel Stamm 1:20:06
I don't start writing anything before I don't have an exact structure. I have the turning points. I'm very much going by Christopher Campbell's hero's journey, which I think is an amazing book. Joseph Campbell's hero's journey, which then Christopher Vogler wrote into a book called The writer's journey, which, which is absolutely, I think, absolute genius. And of course, there's a lot of controversy is it too formulaic as to whatever, whatever. But just to be aware of those principles of those archetypes, I think helps you usually in structuring it. And that's what you're talking about, about the slump and the second act that also helps you to avoid.
Jason Buff 1:20:46
Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of Vogler is one of my favorite books. And you know, one of the things that it helps me with is, when I'm writing when I'm in the middle of a story, you know, if you go back, I never read, I never went through the process of reading all those books before I started writing. You know, it was funny, because I was already writing and then I was like, Oh, well, this looks like an interesting book. And I would read that or you know, even McKee story or, you know, save the cat, all these other books that are, you know, kind of the canon of screenwriting books, and it's not that you learn screenwriting from them, but you can it kind of jumpstart your, your thought process of, okay, you know, if you're, if you're listening to Vogler, he's got all these different archetypes, you know, all these different characters that have played a role traditionally in stories. And you can say, Oh, well, this character is kind of the gatekeeper or whatever, you know, and it just kind of, it helps you jumpstart that kind of like creative process. So
Daniel Stamm 1:21:38
I totally agree. I think it's about getting you to ask the right questions. And that's, that's where the formulaic thing I don't care that it's formulaic. Because I don't have to have everything come into play if I don't want it, but it can't hurt to ask yourself the question, do I need that in that turning point here? If the answer is no, then fine. But at least you didn't miss asking yourself the question. And I by now, I've even put together like a questionnaire with 36 question. Questions then asking myself for every single so much energy goes into remembering the questions that if I have that written down once, it's different for every story, obviously the answer, but the questions are always like, what are you? What are you trying to make the audience feel? How is what is lighting, communicating? What is bundled on my bum? All these? What's the subtext? What's the obstacle? What's the objective? There's always stuff? What are the stakes, there's always stuff that will contribute tension to a scene. And it really helps me to not have to start from scratch every single time and then go like, Oh, yeah, right, the obstacles. But I have one questionnaire that clearly says, What are the obstacles? And then it gets me to think about it. And that's basically what all of these screenwriting techniques do for me to get you to ask the right questions. So that's huge.
Jason Buff 1:22:55
You actually have that document?
Daniel Stamm 1:22:57
I do. Yeah, I can, you can post it, I can email it to you.
Jason Buff 1:22:59
Oh, yeah. That would know, I would absolutely love to just so that it's, you know, that's, that's really helpful. Because whenever you're, you know, you know, I haven't directed a feature, but I mean, that the idea of, you know, having something to make sure you always have to, like, kind of get your head in the game and be like, okay, am I sure that all these things are happening, because you don't want to go back later and be like, this could have been much better if I just accepted remember that they maybe they're fighting a little in this scene, or maybe there's like, you know, there can be more tension with this or that Right, right. Okay, so I wanted to I want to make sure I'm not missing anything about The Last Exorcism. One of my I really, it's like one of my favorite horror films of all time. Wow.
Daniel Stamm 1:23:42
Thank you so much. I don't hear that a lot. Because a lot of the real horror audience hated the movie with a pet really? See, the thing that you always have to take into consideration is that we are rarely seeing a movie called right. We are always going in we've seen a trailer. We know that and that and that about it. And that's actually an interesting story. When I like when Lionsgate bought it. They were counting something on their fingers. And I was like, what are they counting and turn out? They're counting while they're watching the movie. They're counting trailer moments. And when when. So when they were deciding whether to buy the movie or not, they wanted to make sure that there are seven trailer movies, their trailer moments in the movie that they can cut a trailer from. And once they reach that, they were like, Okay, we're gonna buy the movie. So that is something that I Now keeping in mind when I'm writing or thinking of a story. Because if you have six trailer moments that you are fine with getting away in the trailer, but one philosophy one is a nature revelation question, you know of a character that turns out to be the bad guy or if you know something, then the marketing department won't care. They will cut it into the trailer and you can argue all you want you have no power over that anymore. They will give away your best kept Secret. And with Last Exorcism, it was kind of similar in that the whole movie is basically based on the question, is this girl crazy? Or is she possessed? And you only get the answer at the very last minute in the movie, you're waiting for that for 90 minutes. But what Lionsgate did to create a great trailer was they took a shot of the girl crawling away from the camera, they played it backwards. So now she's crawling towards the camera, then they flopped it. So now it's upside down, they put a silhouette in there, it looks like she's in the, in the light of flashlight. And now it looks like she's crawling towards camera on the ceiling. Which is a great shot, you know, complaining afterwards, like where's that great shot in the movie. But it wasn't the movie, it was just the backwards and on the floor. But it also gives away after 18 seconds in the trailer, that the that the girl is possessed because otherwise she couldn't climb on the on the ceiling. And we were so careful not to have her do anything in the movie that a crazy girl couldn't do. Like in our movie. She didn't levitate, she didn't spin her head. She didn't, you know, whatever, whatever. Because we needed to keep that question alive. But of course I should have. If I had known that Lionsgate is going to put the answer into the trailer, I would have structured that different because now we have an audience that had gone to see the movie because of the trailer, but was always 90 minutes ahead of the movie. So it must have been a really boring experience for them to watch the movie because the main spine of it just completely fell apart. So I don't I don't get a lot of people that like most of the people that really love The Last Exorcism are not horror people, necessarily. They kind of like I get that a lot where it's like normally I don't like horror, but I really love The Last Exorcism. Yeah, rarely do I get I love horror and I loved elastics
Jason Buff 1:26:53
That's, that's really surprising, because, you know, I think it's one of the most effective horror movies that I've seen, you know, and I watch a lot of movies. And I really have gotten to the point now with Netflix, where I'll put something on and I'll give it about five minutes, you know, and if it doesn't pull me in, because there's so many bad horror movies now. It's just like now that the the digital revolution and everybody's got cameras, and I mean, it seems like everybody shooting horror movies, but there's a lot of people that really shouldn't be making them you know,
Daniel Stamm 1:27:26
But that's it tells you a lot about because we were talking about the fast first act. You know, if you give the movie five minutes that used to be like the title sequence wasn't even over after five minutes. And now, now there's so it's so easy to kind of click the next movie, that as a filmmaker, you just have to be aware of that and give the audience something like I was I was when I was on the jury in Kosovo, there was all these short films, I had to watch eight hours of short films. And there was this beautiful movie about two monks in the snow. Yeah. And I fell asleep immediately. I was like, if you don't start with an explosion, or, or something crazy, right? That wakes me up and goes like, watch this, you know, then you're kind of screwed for sure. I think with the with the horror, I think the next successful horror filmmaker is the one that can figure out the next step after the fake documentary. Because I love fake documentary. I think there's real strength in the format. But I think that people are tired of the conceit and for gimmick, and there is a certain cheapness that comes with it, you know, and people, I think, one for next thing. And I think if we ever it is can take the strengths of that movie, but roll it out of that style, but roll it into a conventional movie, then you'd really have something like it's not a horror movie, but blue Valentine's that the Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams Oh, yeah. They I think we're very close to that, where they, you can tell that the performances are so fresh that I bet anything that they are not following any script of it. They're improvising the whole thing. And yet, it's not the fake documentary conceit. It's not like, Oh, here's a documentary crew. Here's a filmmaker, Bob. And that's kind of, I think, the beginning of an approach where someone takes the strengths of both mediums and puts them together. And in terms of a look, it's so bizarre because it used to be that that film was so slow that you had to artificially light it right now, video cameras and film are so fast that you really wouldn't have to light anything. We've just become so accustomed to the artificial artificially lit look, that when it's not artificially lit, it kind of stands out, but maybe it's time to get back to that and to say we don't have just because we don't realize something and we want to shoot available light. That doesn't mean that we suddenly need to have the documentary perfect documentary format.
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Daniel Stamm 1:30:07
We can also do that in a conventionally narrative movie, right?
Jason Buff 1:30:13
The thing that we're trying to do is all that I'm trying to do is, you know, I put something together that was kind of, you know, similar to, you know, The Last Exorcism, and you know, the documentary format. But I come from a background of documentaries. So I love documentaries by Errol Morris and a lot of these HBO, you know, the true crime things and everything. And so the idea was to say, Okay, can we go? Can we do it have elements of that, you know, handheld camera and going into stuff, but also have more of like, you know, Errol Morris films, all these beautiful scenes that are very cinematic as well, you know, so we're going to kind of see if that works. Because, yeah, I totally agree with you, you know, it's like, you get a couple of hits, you know, The Last Exorcism wreck was also a really good example, I think. And then it's like people, when I would tell them about what I was doing the first thing out of their mouth would be like, Oh, it's found footage. I'm like, No, it's not really there. Like, you know, we're done with that. They won't even let you in the door anymore. So it's like, okay, well, let me let me go back to my, to the drawing board. Forget it.
Daniel Stamm 1:31:19
Maybe that next filmmaker will. It's not the time is definitely right for the next idea to come along. Just like paranormal acts, or like Blair, witch, and then paranormal activity. You know, they really hit the timing with with the fake documentary. I think if I were to make my first movie right now, I would really try to not make I know that it's tempting to do the fake documentary thing, because it's cheap. But again, exactly what you were saying people already kind of rolled their eyes and are tired of it and won't even give it a chance. So if you can't figure out any alternative, it's probably worth experimenting.
Jason Buff 1:31:56
One other thing I also noticed is the use of music in The Last Exorcism, which is kind of breaking away from the documentary format, because you do incorporate a soundtrack. Right? So I was just curious.
Daniel Stamm 1:32:10
I think I think score is such a powerful tool in horror filmmaking. And you kind of have to obviously find your balance of, of realism in the whole thing. I mean, people were complaining, it's amazing with the internet right now, how many complaints you have to, you know, have to deal with? Of course, people were like, very Oh, this is obviously shot, it's two with two cameras, or it's different scenes, because they cut that together and that together, so then you kind of it's true. So then you kind of have to wait, is that complaint worth or would it have been worth it to not have a shot reverse shot in your movie, just for that, I can never say the word very similar to theirs for that for the authenticity, or not. And you kind of weigh your your tools and what you're going to use now. And with score, it was pretty clear to me that the effect that score has, to me way outweighs the the artifice of having score on the movie. Plus a lot of documentaries these days. If you look at Nick Broomfield stuff are a lot of like modern documentaries very, very heavily use music use score. So that was never a problem. Really funny. Okay.
Jason Buff 1:33:28
So let's move into Is there any there any stories about the life after you made it or you know, is there any insight in terms of I mean, did you go to festivals, or was it just a straight sell to Lionsgate? Yeah, in terms of distribution?
Daniel Stamm 1:33:46
Yeah, I didn't have anything to do with it. It's amazing how much can filmmaker you don't have, once you deliver your cut. There's really nothing you're never been consulted. Again with it, especially here. They did a very smart thing. And Eli is a great salesman. And he went around to different studios and showed the movie to different students at exactly the same time and let them know that other studios are watching it as well, to get a bidding war started. And that's exactly what happened, everyone which was amazing to me. Everyone wanted the movie except for Fox. But the one since wandering universal wanted it Lionsgate and blah, blah. And then in the end, it just came out to who is willing to commit to the most PNA which is what is it prints and advertising. So how many prints and then how many theaters are you going to screen and how much money is going to be invested into advertising and Lionsgate committed to $16 million in PLA, which is kind of amazing for a movie that was made on a budget of $1.5 million. And that was the highest that there wasn't that committed to like almost 3000 screens which is huge. for 2000 1000s of screens. And what then happened, which was kind of amazing. I never knew about this, they showed the trailer in theaters. And they kind of the process is that you buy, basically advertising time in front of another movie, right? So you are completely gambling, whether that movie that your trailers cut in front of is going to be huge success, and millions of people will see it, or it's a complete flop and no one will ever see it. And we had we kind of had both we had the movie and in front of splice, which I thought was a great movie science fiction movie, but also a complete flop that no one ever saw. So there was kind of murky waist. But then we also had the trailer in front of inception, which offers a huge blockbuster. So that helped them. And then what's happening is that the studio is working with a company that is basically sending out spies all over the country into movie theaters. And they have a questionnaire and they all they're doing is that they write down people's reactions to the trailer. And they write down quotes, like they sit behind you because I saw the questionnaires afterwards. And they would write, boy, a teen looks up from his popcorn, and says to his girlfriend, we gotta go see that. And they write down how many people are watching the screen when the trailer is playing, how many people are going to the bathroom, how many people are not interested, how many people are all that kind of stuff. And then they that gets translated into a score. So the studio knows how well a trailer played. And we were playing like our release date was against piranha 3d, which was turned turned out to be an amazing movie Alex, Alessandra neighs. But they had problems with the trailer, because they they didn't have their digital piranhas ready by the time that the trailer was cut. So they put in some kind of weird bed, or the official pureness of the trailer look crap. So our score was a lot higher with our trailer than piranhas score was, which was important because you try to avoid having two movies of the same genre open the same weekend because you're just cannibalizing your audience, right? If you are the only horror movie on a weekend. That means you get 100% of the horror movie audience rather than having to split it with the other one. So it was kind of this, it was always clear that Last Exorcism and pirana would not end up actually opening on the same weekend. But none of the two studios dimension at Lionsgate was budging. It was like this game of chicken. We're not moving, we're not moving. And then when the trailer scores came out, it was clear that the differential was going to move. And that gave Lionsgate such a big boost. In confidence, I guess about the movie, that they suddenly increased the P and F from $16 million to $24 million. Which just means a lot of presents and TV spots, and a lot of presents and posters and a lot of you know that kind of stuff. And I think that really catapulted the thing then to well not go it was like number one on Friday, and it was number one on Saturday. But then the movie takers like overtook it on Sunday by $100,000 or something. But that doesn't really matter, because everyone is looking. Which movie is winning the weekend on Friday? By the time they don't think He's rarely check in again on Monday and correct. Okay, who actually won the week. So we were in everyone's eyes, we have this number one movie. And because it was a French, French, and like the French finance, it was French money. So it was officially a French movie. And in France, you don't go by opening weekend, whether you want the weekend or not, but you go by opening Friday. So to this day, France would say Last Exorcism was the number one movie in the country when that's actually true. But there is a lot of there's a lot of PR, obviously coming from the number one movie in the country because you sell the movie worldwide, but the entire world waits until the US has opened to movie like France wouldn't suddenly go before the US or Czechoslovakia, Australia, China. And they're looking at the numbers and depending on the numbers, they will decide how many screens to show it on how much PNA to do in their own territories. And if you have a blockbuster in the US, that means that suddenly the entire world pumps a lot of money into your movie, and you suddenly have a worldwide whereas if you bomb in the US, you can have the greatest movie in the world. But it would be very rare that foreign territories have the confidence to go for big release even though you're bound in in the US. So that's why we suddenly became this kind of $70 million worldwide thing on a budget of 1.5.
Alex Ferrari 1:39:58
We'll be right back after a word for Mr. sponsor. And now back to the show.
Daniel Stamm 1:40:07
Which sounds great. But obviously, if you pumped 25 $24 million into something, you could market anything. But that was kind of great. And because it's unfortunately true that all Hollywood ever looks at is your last movie and how successful your last movie was. And they go, for some reason, they rate success by box office, which is like such crap, because I had nothing to do with the marketing. You know, the movie could be horrible. And there was great marketing. And it was a great box office success that I then get hired for the next movie because they think I'm a great director, because the movie did well, kind of doesn't make sense. And the other way around, I can have the greatest movie, if you look at Steve Jobs this weekend, which is, you know, an amazing movie with amazing Oscar winning winning talent, but totally flopped at the weekend. If you just judge Danny Boyle by the box office income, then I guess he's a bad filmmaker now or something. So it's it's bizarre, but it kind of opened a lot of doors for me afterwards. And got me to
Jason Buff 1:41:07
Did you go back to Germany? And what kind of get to promote there?
Daniel Stamm 1:41:10
Yeah, I did. But Last Exorcism was a huge flop in Germany. And it wasn't even a big release. It's very weird, like, which was huge. And France, huge. Italy, completely flopped in Spain, completely weird went up against Harry Potter, complete. Germany, my friends hadn't even heard of it. So that was a little bit. Obviously, what
Jason Buff 1:41:32
Did you tell them? You say I'm a big filmmaker. Well, that's why I'm really famous.
Daniel Stamm 1:41:38
Like, yeah, that's why Facebook is so important, so that everyone knows what successful filmmaker. Yeah, and then I made my next movie called 13. Since then, really proud of and there was a lot of fun to make, and that I would argue, is as good as the last exorcism, but it made $9,000 at the box office, it was screening on 22 screens, which again, has nothing to do with the movie, it's just the dimension, it was dimension movie and dimension hasn't had a hit in a long time. So they just don't have the money. Even if they want it, they couldn't pump $24 million into marketing the movie. So if you're working with dimension, you kind of know that you're probably not going to go theatrical until you're unless you're like screen five or scary movie or something. And then suddenly, my career is judged by my last box office, which is $9,000. So all the cachet that you have, after the $70 million movie is kind of out the window. And it's not, you know, it's not your fault, but there's nothing you can do against it, you kind of live and die with your movie, and you're held responsible even for stuff that you had no influence over.
Jason Buff 1:42:47
Well, how was that? Because that was, you know, looking at your career, that was the first straight up narrative, you know, not handheld, right? Film, you know, how was that different? How did you approach because one of the things that I was, you know, I do a lot of research and the actors were talking about how well prepared you are, you know,
Daniel Stamm 1:43:11
That is, that is the questionnaire that we were talking about, like, because I always like I get starstruck and I get nervous like suddenly working with a Ron Perlman wouldn't completely terrify me. And the only or or with rutina, Wesley who I had such a crush on which he was on Trueblood and to suddenly happen in person. And the only thing that protects me from completely hiding in my shell, is that I know that I am going to be more versed in the story than they are right. I've set over the script for years. I know every line I wrote some of those lines, I know why they're in there, there isn't a single question that they can ask me that I don't know the answer to I'm not always gonna give them the answer. Because sometimes you kind of want them to experiment and try and whatever. But the only level of security that I get comes from my knowledge of the script. So I guess that's what they're talking about when they say I'm so prepared. I always want to have one version that I know I could fall back on as this this scene if there is no idea on the day, and I completely draw a blank, which you always do. There's a one or two days in every shoot where you just for some reason, freeze and don't have any answers. And then it's good to be able to fall back on something that you figured out beforehand and kind of go off of that. And yeah, it was important to me to not be pigeonholed into the fake documentary corner, which happens pretty quickly. And because in all meetings that I had people were always asking you the same thing, which is can you shoot conventionally? Now I was always like, well, that's what I studied in film school for years, just because I've made two fake documentary films like they are the exception. It's not that the narrative standard movie is the exception to what I do, but the don't fake documentary. So I kind of had to prove that to people. I think it wasn't Orton, to me that it's not a fake documentary movie. But if you notice, there isn't a single locked off shot in 13. Since it's all handheld it's much, much more stable than Last Exorcism because the character itself is not supposed to have a character. But it's all handheld, which goes back to the whole helping the performances and injecting the energy. Right.
Jason Buff 1:45:23
I mean, it's not what I mean is yeah, it's not like a shaky camera, though. But it is. Right, right. You know? What was the hardest part about changing formats and going into like a purely narrative? And, you know, multicam kind of shot the film with that. We're in general, what's the hardest part of like making a film what's kind of the part that you dread?
Daniel Stamm 1:45:44
I dread them all. I'm terrified of every single step of it. And then every, every time after that step is done. I'm always like, Oh, that was kind of pleasant. I don't know why I was so afraid of this, but your next part is really gonna suck. And then, with every absolutely ever since, when I'm writing, I think writing is the most terrible when I'm casting. I'm like, Oh, my God will never find our people. When I'm blocking. It's, it's it's a stressful thing. If you're not not made for that I don't think character was unnecessarily made more of a writer soul than a director. So I'm very introverted and shy and don't really I'm not a leader person that goes back everyone, look at me, I have the solution, follow me kind of thing. So it sucks. Directing sucks a lot of energy, every minute of it. Just being social and being in exchange with so many people for weeks, it's just I'm dead after a movie. So that's kind of hard. The Perfection isn't it's definitely hard because you have with the standard movie, because you have a very clear idea of what you want it to be. And because it never is, you're always slightly frustrated. And you have to work against that frustration, whereas with a fake documentary is the opposite. It didn't have a very clear idea of what the outcome was gonna be. But you get all these gifts along the way. So you're always in a state of euphoria. So it's very different, like one is a very dark place. But even with Last Exorcism, I am so tense when I'm shooting, that I can't, I can't really enjoy it. If I look back at the past exorcism time, which was the greatest time was great cast, Ashley Bell could not be a lovelier and mortality person, I had my friends around me and my cinematographer, my editor, it could not have been a bit of time. And after it was done, I was like, Why didn't I enjoy that more. And it is because you're always anxious, because they're always expecting the next day to kind of go down in flames somehow, or me at least I do. I'm kind of a defensive pessimist. I'm always expected Doom around the next corner. So that's maybe the hardest, hardest thing with the standard format entity, you have to block and there's so much you don't have to do in effect documentary, you don't tell the actors where they had to stand when they say what line, you know. And that really helped. And, and it saves you a lot of time because you can count on the camera following the movement of the actors, because you don't have to light anything, you can pan and go wherever you want. And it's just much more restrictive, in a in a standard format.
Jason Buff 1:48:17
Now, do you watch films? While you're I mean, the obvious question is, and I know that you've you answered this previously about movies like The Exorcism or movies that are kind of in a similar genre. Do you try to watch movies that are kind of in the same genre that of the one that you're making? Or do you try to
Daniel Stamm 1:48:37
Like with Last Exorcism, it was important because we knew that we were up against a classic, The Exorcist that no one has ever gone up. And if we were trying to top it, we just fail. So the only the only way for us was to stay away from everything that the exorcist did. Like the levitation of crawling down the stairs backwards and for this whole sexual stuff, and go for something completely different and get out of the way of The Exorcist. And because of that, it was important to watch that the exorcist and know what in and out and also watch recent movies like The Exorcism of Emily Rose, because you also wanted to stay clear out of stuff that they did and think there was, there was a scene that I loved in Last Exorcism. That was so creepy. And then someone gave me a copy of paranormal activity before that came out. Last Texas, and it was exactly the same scene. It's that scene where the girl stands up and just stares at her boyfriend sleeping. And then it's kind of the clock going forward to do it. And you know, she stands there for eight hours. And we had the same without the clock obviously. But we had the same with the sun going up and sun going down of our girl standing there staring at the exorcist who is asleep. And we had to cut that scene out because I know we would have been accused of copying that scene even though I hadn't seen when we shot it, or wrote it.
Alex Ferrari 1:50:00
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.
Daniel Stamm 1:50:08
Yeah, but yeah, you kind of have to be aware of what the movies are already gonna be compared to my next movie that I'm working on right now as a home invasion movie, slept watched, you know, the strangers and you're next. And all those movies that came out recently or that are classics, the genre, wreck wreck and wreck too. And you know, the magic also, it helps to just pull freeze frames from stuff that you like, or look at you like that doesn't have to be home invasion movies, necessarily. Like I've told a lot of Blade Runner references that obviously, it's couldn't be more different from storyboards. But I really liked the look. And it really helps if you can show people what you like and what you don't like, with my cinematographer, I don't have to do that anymore as much because we've made so many, I mean, many movies together, but we've known each other for 15 years, and my taste hasn't changed and his taste hasn't changed. So we don't have to re educate each other every single time we've worked together. But it definitely helps for everyone else. And for the producers that always ask how are you going to shoot this? Which is such a weird question, how am I gonna shoot it? But I don't even know what they're talking about? I guess they mean, what is the color spectrum? Or are you going to use long lenses? Or not? Are you going to move the camera? And I mean, a lot of directing is pretending that you have answers that you actually don't have. It really is like every every meeting that I have, the truth would be? I have no idea like to every question, how what do you Whom do you want to cast? What do you I have no idea. I'm not there yet. We're still in the story. But you need to give them answers because they want to feel that you're in complete control, which everyone knows is alive. Because everyone is lying. Every director that's auditioning for a movie is coming up with all these, you know, completely made up things that they throw out as soon as they start making a movie, but you first have to walk in with a concept. So it really helps to have a visual presentation together. And to have a starting point for the work you're going to be doing.
Jason Buff 1:52:10
Well, I've got one final question for you. I really appreciate you know all the time that you've given us. If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, give a younger version of yourself advice, what would you tell yourself?
Daniel Stamm 1:52:24
Well, I lucked into it, I would tell myself to fucking hell enjoy it. Because there's nothing wrong with enjoying it, it's not suddenly gonna derail just because you enjoy it. You know, you don't have to live in fear day. But I know exactly that on the next movie, I'll be in fear again. And maybe that's just my MO. And I think it's getting better from movie to movie, it's probably not something that I can just tell my younger self, and he would do. But I lucked out with a lot of things that that did happen with me. But I would tell and I basically gone through that while we were talking, I would tell younger people not to to look for the green light, wait for the green light to write something for the resources that they have to not be perfectionist and wait for the right moment because it'll never come and to not try to impress Hollywood with stuff that is money related because they have all the money in the world. I think those those things, that's actually at least what I'm trying to tell everyone from my old roommates who I watched wait and develop for five years, and the script was never quite ready. And maybe someone optioned it. And maybe they'll get an agent until they walked out of the door with the script and said fuck it, I'm going to shoot this myself and I'm going to shoot it now. I always thought it was never going to happen. And so I think you have to get to that point. And if you look at people, how people that are working in the film industry, how they started, most of them have exactly that story. If it's Oren Peli with paranormal activity, who just shot it for $15,000 in his apartment with two friends, or whomever, like the first efforts are always, almost always independent efforts that they didn't need anyone's approval for. Because no one is going to bet on you until you've proven that you can do it. Short films are not proving it to them anymore. So it has to be a feature. So you do have to make a feature on your own. And then just pray that you get into festivals and get noticed some?
Jason Buff 1:54:21
Yeah, I think that's you know, I did an interview with Brian unit, which Oh, yeah. And that was one of the key things that he said during that interview was that, you know, when they're putting together projects, that they're not one of these gigantic studios, they find different elements and it's like, okay, what can we let's build a story out of what we already have versus you know, what, what I would do when I you know, was just as writer was I would sit down and I would just say, okay, what can I imagine? You know, I put stuff together and there was a part of me that would try to you know, okay, well I don't want to have that spaceship blow you know, I tried to make it small enough. So a production company would look at it but I was never writing it from what do I have right here around One way that we can actually film and just, you know, make something really quick. So I think that's
Daniel Stamm 1:55:03
Why it's really important because you think it'd be easier if you have more freedom. And if you can write whatever you want it, you're not restricted by reality. But I think it's the opposite. Like with me, at least with necessary death, the story came very quickly, because I had all these restrictions, and it didn't look in outer space, and it didn't look to the French Revolution to whatever, but it was very clear, it has to be something that takes place in my kitchen, you know, and that, that suddenly gives you a better framework for stuff. And that, that helps for sure, I wouldn't even because you said you were writing something smaller, so that a production company will like it, I would even urge people to go one step more radical, and write something that they can do without a production company, because even production companies are not, most of it will fall apart, or they're never gonna make it and you're tied up. And that stuff, if you really, you need the persistence and the energy to emerge with something that you've made without the help of a production company, I think, and they're probably a lot of examples that would prove me wrong. But, but I also I don't know anyone who actually relied on a production company and then got a movie made. I just don't I know the people that have gone the other direction and shot their own thing. And then one festivals and my wife was shooting something with our best friend right now they've made a movie that was huge was made for $10,000 or something. There's just the thing is that there's no excuse anymore. Today, I understand that there were times when you needed that kind of money, because the average cost a quarter million dollars and for the the camera shot 35 millimeter film or whatever, and you needed that support. The great thing is today, you need talent on your site, but you don't need the support anymore. And that's really a big chance that we should take a think. Well, Daniel,
Jason Buff 1:56:56
I really appreciate you coming on the show. I mean, this has been an amazing episode. We're at like two hours now.
Daniel Stamm 1:57:02
It was really, really fun. Thanks, Jason.
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