Up-and coming director/screenwriter Scott Derrickson -whos film credits include Ghosting, Dracula, Urban Legends: Final Cut, and Hellraiser: Inferno - has made it clear he likes making scary movies not something you might expect from a Christian director who minored in theological studies at Biola. However, Derricksons affinity to the fear-provoking is not just for kicks, as the filmmaker finds the genre to be ideal for dealing with matters regarding the spiritual realm a topic that Derrickson deals with head-on in his latest film, The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The following is CPs conversation with Derrickson in its entirety.
How hard has it been for you to be a Christian in Hollywood?
Well, I think its difficult to be a Christian anywhere, at least to be a committed Christian I think that demands a lot from a person no matter their field of work, and certainly working in Hollywood is no exception. Im asked this question quite frequently and I suppose that the real implication of the question is, Is it difficult to maintain my values or my Christian perspective or integrity working in Hollywood? Im not sure that Hollywood is an industry thats any more difficult than a lot of other industries that are out there. I think that the secular work environment in general is a place thats challenging for Christians to thrive in without getting caught up in materialism, or in competitiveness, or in things that are really not important. I havent experienced any particular kind of bigotry or bias against me because of my faith, and I tend to be fairly open about what I believe; I dont go around shouting the name of Jesus at inappropriate times, but I dont go out of my way to hide who I am and what I believe either. I think that Hollywood is a very liberal community, and the great thing about that is that it tends to be relatively open to letting people think and believe what they want to think and believe. Thats been my experience at least. But what is so difficult, frankly, about being in Hollywood and succeeding in Hollywood is how competitive it is and how demanding the work itself is and how difficult it is to get a project of quality pushed through the system, and what has helped me with that is that I really think that Christians ought to be held to a high standard of excellence in our field of work. We are meant to be people who are excellent at what we do, and in the field of creativity especially in the arts and entertainment I think that we bear the responsibility to be the best at what we do. There are certainly better writers and directors than me, but I have worked very hard to earn credibility within the business as a quality writer and a good director. The Exorcism of Emily Rose happens to be a project that I was able to get through the system in such a way that the film got made, and it was made in the way that I wanted it to be made.
What do you think needs to happen in order to allow more Christians to enter the arena of making high-quality major motion pictures?
I think that Christians who have an interest in filmmaking need to deepen their love for cinema. To be honest, thats what I think has been missing historically from the Christians who want to succeed in the Hollywood industry. I think that there are a lot of Christians who are interested in the industry because they understand that culture is shaped by Hollywood and they understand the social impact that cinema has but I dont think that they love cinema itself enough to become the best in that field, and I think Christians need to recognize what an extraordinary art form movies are, and to love them in their own right. That is something that I think is starting to happen though; I taught a class on the history of European cinema last year at Biola University, my alma mater, and it was very encouraging for me to see a lot of these young Christians and how many of them have developed early on, at such a young age, a passion for movies themselves. I taught the class because I wanted to help facilitate that passion, and nurture it. Really, until Christians love the medium of film itself enough to help it evolve and contribute to its innovations, we wont ever be a group of people that have a place within the industry. Thats really my strongest desire at this point to see Christians take a more serious stand in the knowledge of movies and of movie making itself. I think there are a lot of Christians who are devout enough to hold their integrity together in the industry, but there arent a lot of people who are devoted enough to the craft.
Tell us a little about how you got involved with The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
Well, I got involved because I had heard about the true story, and I felt that within that true story was an opportunity to make a film that would be appealing to the general public and thought provoking at the same time. I intended for the film to be effective, but I also intended to provoke the audience into thinking about spiritual questions and to get them asking themselves what they believe about the spiritual realm and ultimately about God.
Is that something you had in mind since you first started working on the film?
Yes, that really has been my intention from the beginning, and the studios have been very supportive of the making of the film. But at the same time, Im not here to push an agenda or to force my perspective down the throats of the audience regarding significant spiritual issues. I do believe that there are a lot of people in this country who are not even thinking about the existence of the spiritual realm, and my ambition is to take that discussion and argument to the forefront, and to get people to consider the spiritual arena and get them to open their eyes and take a hard look at it.
There are quite a few frightening scenes in The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Is the horror aspect of the film something that is there more for the sake of drawing an audience or is there as a medium to communicate the intention of film as youve just spoken of?
Thats an insightful question; I think that its both. I am certainly cognizant of the fact the general public loves scary movies and The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a marketable movie. Its a film that has the kind of scary material that people love, and so that was certainly part of the reason for pursuing the film, but I think that its also accurate to say that the movie is a sheep in wolves clothing, that there is a nobility to the film and that it is good for everyone. I think that theres an assumption that films of this genre, films that deal with unpleasant or frightening material, arent nurturing to the soul, but the Bible is full of frightening stories. And considering the reality of our plight, I think that the more explicit stories, the darker stories, can actually be more meaningful to us. I think that this film is something that, when watched and absorbed by the audience, has the potential to enrich peoples lives aesthetically, intellectually, and spiritually as well. I hope that many people who watch this movie will experience that.