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The Unborn - David S Goyer interview

David S Goyer directs The Unborn

Interview by Rob Carnevale

AS HORROR movie The Unborn makes its way onto DVD on Monday (June 22), writer-director David S Goyer – the man who helped turn The Dark Knight into such a global phenomenon – talks to us about his aims for the horror film, his thoughts on Batman’s success and why he’s hoping to direct the next X-Men Origins movie next…

Q. What made you decide to direct The Unborn as well as write… because you weren’t always intending to, were you?
David S Goyer: Frankly, what made me decide was… I always had it in my back pocket but I was supposed to direct the Magneto film for Twentieth Century Fox, which got stalled because of the writer’s strike. Universal heard about the script and said: “Do you want to direct?” It all happened very quickly after that. And I would rather have done that than sit on my bum for six months to a year [during the strike]. But it was also fun because it [the script] was only a first draft but we weren’t allowed to make any changes because of the strike.

Q. Was it a massive learning experience in that regard?
David S Goyer: Well, there are little bits and pieces I may have changed. But, for me, it felt more like doing something for TV, because of the immediacy of doing it so quickly. I think sometimes features take so long to get made and it’s not always to their benefit.

Q. I gather you had done a lot of research into the Dyybuk and heterochromia?
David S Goyer: I always do a lot of research but the genesis of this began in Chicago, while I was visiting The Dark Knight set. I was out to dinner one night with my wife and the notion of a woman being haunted by her unborn twin just popped into my head. It sounded scary and my wife agreed, so when I went back to California I started researching it and that, in turn, led me to Dyybuk and heterochromia. I hadn’t set out to make a film steeped in Jewish folklore. But I thought it offered an interesting twist on exorcism because, really, everyone’s main idea of exorcism is Max Von Sydow [in The Exorcist], when the truth is that it exorcism pre-dates Christianity.

Q. What was the most alarming and/or surprising thing you discovered from your Dyybuk research?
David S Goyer: I liked the notion that if it can successfully possess a person it ejects their living soul and that person becomes the dybukk and the whole cycle begins again. As a nice anecdote to this, prior to William Friedkin’s film coming out, incidents of exorcism were scarcely reported. There were a few. But that increased eight-fold after the movie came out. I read a bunch of interesting studies about that.

With my research on The Unborn, however, I met a couple of rabbis who had never performed an exorcism themselves, but who knew a couple of colleagues who had done, 40 or 50 years ago. I also met a priest who told me about a fellow priest who had performed one and was ex-communicated. I actually asked him what he would do if he was asked to perform one and he said he would have to get the church’s permission and then videotape it. There is actually a scene in The Unborn where the kids are asked to sign legal releases, which the church actually does now as a legal requirement. It was a cool little twist that I actually had to cut from the cinema release, but which will be added on the DVD. When people saw the scene they didn’t believe it. But as is so often the case, fact is more bizarre than fiction.

Q. I believe there were strange incidences on set such as an earthquake, which struck while you were shooting the exorcism?
David S Goyer: That’s absolutely true, we had an earthquake. We were shooting an hour outside of Chicago, in the middle of the night and we had wind machines blowing, and then felt this rumbling and shaking. Initially, we thought it was the wind machines, but when I yelled “cut” everything was still rumbling and the chandeliers were still shaking. People started getting very nervous, and sure enough there was an earthquake and it was a big one. In fact, the next night we were shooting in an abandoned psychiatric hospital and we had a tornado warning [laughs]! And there were also a couple of instances where some of the patients wondered onto the set. Two of my crew members refused to come back after the first night at the psychiatric hospital because they got the heeby-jeebies.

Q. I gather you also put your star, Odette Yustman, through her paces, including covering her in bugs when she didn’t expect it at one point, and then catching her off-guard with the eye speculum?
David S Goyer: She was game for a lot of things. With regard to the scene in the ophthalmologist’s lab, the ophthalmologist was our technical advisor and the scene had got a little dry, so I said to him: “Is there any kind of uncomfortable procedure we could add?” He suggested putting the speculum in her eye and I said: “Great! Let’s do it.” Then, as we were filming, I sort of said to Odette off-camera what we were going to do and assured her it would only be one take. We actually did about eight, but she was game.

As for the bugs, yes we did shower her with them too. The potato bugs are seasonal and they’re hard to find. They grow in the ground and we managed to find about 500 of them and filled the rest in using CGI. So, we let them out on the floor and we threw about 30 or 40 on Odette. She wasn’t particularly happy with that. In fact, after we’d got them off her and were re-setting the cameras about five minutes later she started screaming again because one had crawled into her shirt and into her bra.

Q. How important is it to you to come up with original ideas in the horror genre, given Hollywood’s current trend for remaking films?
David S Goyer: Well, it’s funny because some people think this is based on a Japanese film. It’s not. I think there may be a similarly named film. But I think it’s very important and a lot of fun to get original material on film or on TV. It’s easier for the studios to re-create something from another medium, I think, because it gives them a legitimacy. But I’d like to do more original material… It’s very liberating and it was a good feeling to be employing all these people based on an idea I had made up in my head. In fact, ironically this will also probably be my most profitable film for me because of the nature of the business agreement. I’ll make more from this than any of the Batman films.

Q. Talking of Batman, how amazed were you by the success of The Dark Knight [which David co-wrote]?
David S Goyer: Well, none of us could have anticipated how well it would do. We thought it could do beter than Batman Begins, because the previous Batman film to that was the one that people hadn’t liked [Batman & Robin] so we were always facing an uphill battle with the first one. But with The Dark Knight, we felt like we had a chance of hitting $250 million plus. But when the figures kept rising beyond that, we just couldn’t believe it. In fact, it still surprises me… it is a beautiful film but it’s also incredibly dark and complicated film, and it’s a long film. So, it still surprises me that it achieved such massive acceptance around the world.

Q. Will you be involved with the next Batman movie?
David S Goyer: I hope to be, but I can neither confirm nor deny that [laughs].

Q. And what’s the status of X-Men Origins: Magneto?
David S Goyer: Well, we’re waiting to see how Wolverine does. Fox is very keen on keeping the X-Men franchise going but Wolverine is first out the gates and a lot depends on how well that does.

Q. Do you still intend to direct?
David S Goyer: That’s the plan.