David Jung is a lifelong horror fan whose debut feature is The Possession Of Michael King which arrives on 22 August. The film follows one man’s investigations into the world of demons and the paranormal using himself as the subject.
Given the popularity of the supernatural and possession as a subject for filmmakers, what did you think you had with your film that could make it stand out?
All the films we’ve seen that deal with possession usually centre around a dad, mom, or sibling that’s realizing one of their family members is possessed by a demon. They then call in the exorcist, and the bedevilled person is cured amidst some surrounding bloodshed. What I felt we’d never seen before is the possession from the POV of the possessed. I always loved The Shining, and wondered what that story would have been like from the point of view of Jack Torrance. What was really going on inside his head? What was he thinking? What would it be like to describe to an audience the process of slowly going mad, or losing control of your own body to some demonic presence? I thought that would be a really interesting and a potentially fresh approach to the genre. The thought of some evil force inside me, laughing at me, as it made me chase my own child around with a knife gave me chills. It still does.
Did you avoid watching other possession films on the whole or study them?
I studied them to a degree. That degree being, I watched a few of them. I felt like I owed it to the audience to at least bring to the table some of the classic demonic tropes that they expected. But at the same time, I wanted to introduce some new tricks. I went back and re-watched The Exorcist for the first time in years, and man that movie holds up! Blatty’s book/screenplay is magnificent, and Friedkin’s interpretation is genius.
The bar was set so high with that film. I don’t know if it will ever be achieved again.
As the central performance is so key to the film how did you set about casting?
We had a great casting director, Eyde Belasco. She scoured the earth and spent so many endless hours bringing people in and taping them for me to see. I wanted great character actors that you might recognize, but you might not. I think we’re at a point where even the people that live on mars have begun to realize that reality television and “found footage”
doc-style films are (spoiler alert) not real, but somewhat scripted, and cut together to create drama. As so, I didn’t think it was absolutely necessary to cast complete unknowns in any of the roles, but at the same time, I didn’t want a Hollywood A-list leading man or woman breaking the façade we were creating. If we wanted to go down that road, we would have shot this in a more traditional cinematic style. We were really lucky to stumble upon Shane Johnson, who carries this entire film on his back. He’s in every single scene, and for a good part of the movie, it’s just Shane and a camera. When he read for the part (and a lot of great actors read for the part), I was immediately drawn to him. I liked him. He was the kind of guy I would go have a beer with (and have numerous times since), and he felt like he embodied the same sarcastic wit that I had written into the character. I just knew that he was Michael King.
I presume you did extensive research into the topics covered. Has this always been an interest of yours?
I wouldn’t say that black magic specifically has always been an interest of mine, but it kind of comes with the overall territory of loving horror flicks. When I was a kid, my dad had me work the pause button on our big top loader VCR to cut the commercials from the Hammer horror films he would record every weekend. I loved movie FX. I used to make my own latex masks and appendages. My orthodontist helped me make a set of vampire fangs that worked like a retainer and fit right over my own teeth. At one point, my mom had a freezer full of frozen guts in a bucket I had created that I wouldn’t let her throw out, even though I had no idea what I would ever use them for. So I’ve always loved this genre. But for this film, I did a lot of extensive research on black magic and summoning rites and passages. I tracked down some really arcane books, even had some stuff translated from Latin and French that came from really old manuscripts. I wanted the rituals to be different from the stuff that we’ve normally seen in occult centric movies, but I also wanted them to be as authentic as possible. For some of the spells, I tried to give a modern spin on an ancient technique, trying to think: If I was a real practitioner, how would I interpret this spell or ritual in a modern context? So most of the stuff you see in the movie is real or at least based on real summoning spells. The only thing I completely made up was the Haungore, the demon that’s coming after Michael, as well as the characteristics of his appearance and demon-like manner.
The film has a very specific style and your direction, along with Shane’s performance, is key to this.
I wondered from where your inspiration and approach comes from?
I knew that I had to make this a doc-style film. It was basically the terms of my contract, and quite frankly, that style serves this story well. But I also wanted to avoid what I consider to be the pitfalls of the “found footage” genre. The extremely and at times almost forced amateur look, the overly shaky and nausea inducing camera movements, the bad and often flat lighting. I’m a filmmaker that grew up watching films by Stanley Kubrick and Ridley Scott, and while I knew I couldn’t shoot this film with any real fancy cinematic flare, I wanted to do my best to at least make it digestible to an audience as something more than another found footage gimmick. I told everyone on the crew that we were striving more towards accomplishing something along the lines of the look of Chronicle, than Paranormal Activity. We would stick to the confines of the doc camera, every shot would be motivated either by a camera Michael is carrying, his camera man is carrying, or that he’s set up in his house, but at the same time, we would really plan the shots and light the set like a movie. I wanted the audience to reach a certain point in the film where they can start to get caught up in what’s happening to Michael, and almost forget the fact that they’re watching a documentary.
For a debut feature it is a
bold film. As a co-writer also I wondered how you got the project off the
ground or how it came it be?
I knew that I needed to do something pretty bold to get it to stand out in
this marketplace. I also wanted to try and make as strong of a first
impression as a writer/director as possible. So I knew right off the bat
that I couldn’t do a typical ghost hunters in an asylum, or slasher flick.
I also wanted to do something that had a really strong character at the
heart of it as well, and embodied a lot of psychological elements that
would go hand in hand with the supernatural. Since I wanted to direct it,
I knew the budget had to be pretty reasonable. I made a decision early on
that I would make this film with my own camera in my own house if I had to
(luckily, it didn’t come to that). When my agent and manager first sent
the screenplay out, virtually everyone in Hollywood passed on it. I was in
the process of rewriting it as a non-“found footage” film for free, for a
company that was semi-interested in backing it, when the movie The Devil
Inside came out. It did amazingly well at the box office, and suddenly,
everyone in Hollywood wanted a doc-style possession film. For the first
time in my career, I was in the right place at the right time. Before the
end of the week, we had a handful of studio offers, some of them coming
from the same people that had previously passed on the script! Hollywood
is a mostly reactionary crowd. If The Devil Inside hadn’t of come out, who
knows if this movie would have ever been made. It certainly would have
been much different from the film that exists now. For one, many more of
my family members would have been playing roles.
Was it horror that led you to
the story or did the idea come first? I guess I’m asking if you’re a
horror fan at heart.
They say ‘write what you know’ and I think it’s a good motto. I’m a huge
horror fan. A lot of my ideas stem from horror. Where Michael King came
from, well, I had an idea for a movie, kind of a horror version of
Memento. Basically, a guy wakes up in an alley, covered in blood. With no
idea who he is, or how he got there. We come to find out that he’s
possessed by a demon, and that he did this to himself. But every time he
puts the pieces back together, the demon forces him to kill those around
him, and wipes his mind again, leaving him at the end of the film, right
back where he started. I had the whole thing worked out. I pitched it to a
friend of mine, and he thought the coolest part of the story was that this
guy intentionally did this to himself. He wanted to see this guy trying to
possess himself. That set me off on the direction of creating Michael
King. A man, not unlike Harry Houdini, that so very much wants to believe
there’s something else out there, but the realist in him, won’t let him
take that leap of faith without seeing some kind of physical proof.
What will we see next from
I’ve got some other horror films in the works. I’ve got my own take on
reinventing the zombie mythology that I’m interested in pursuing. But the
closest thing I have to production is a project called ROAM: Rider of
Another Mortal. It’s a dark thriller with some grounded sci-fi elements.
Kind of inspired by John Frankenheimer’s Seconds. The basic teaser is
this: What if I told you there was a secret corporation out there, that
through the right channels, and for the right amount of money, could get
you a new body. One you could take out for a test ride. If you like it,
you can keep it, if not, destroy it, and get another. The only downside…
is that these bodies… belong to other people. We’ve got a temp website up
for it at www.roammovie.com. We’re going to start storyboarding a short
film we’re shooting based on the feature script. Go to the site and check
it out, and if you’re a fan, sign up for our mailing list. We’ll keep you
posted on our progress, and walk you through the entire process with us
from start to finish.
“Thank you ever so much for taking part in this interview
And we wish you the very best of luck in the future.”