Last Exorcism: Interview Director Daniel Stamm

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Daniel Stamm is the director of "The Last Exorcism," starring Patrick Fabian and Ashley Bell. The film, which is being released by Lionsgate, comes out August 27.

“Throughout the film the question is: Is it supernatural or is it human evil? Is Nell schizophrenic or is she possessed?” says director Daniel Stamm. “That to me is the interesting question. The film is about faith, the role faith plays in your life and what that does to you – how it can help you, and how it can destroy you.”

A new genre
 
While Stamm's aptitude in the realm of psychological terror was apparent, the horror genre was new ground for the director. “A lot of the horror scenes were new to me,” Stamm says, “so that was kind of challenging from a technical point of view. The most exciting scenes to shoot were the character-based ones, where you can have the actor just go and you don't know what the outcome is going to be. You get something different every time you do it.”

Documentary realism
 
Stamm believes that the awareness of the camera within the world of the film, a hallmark of documentary filmmaking, is a critical component to the success of the film's realism. He says, “The cameraman actually exists in the film as a character, and represents the audience, which I really love because it forces the audience into an intimacy with what's going on that sometimes may be uncomfortable. And I think for a horror movie that's brilliant, when you get the audience closer than they would ever want to be.” He adds, “In a normal narrative film you probably wouldn't go to that extreme close-up as we're doing in the documentary style. So we're in people's faces much more than they're used to, which I think really helps with the intensity.”
 
For Stamm, working with the two other principal mood-makers, cinematographer Zoltan Honti and editor Shilpa Khanna, was second-nature. “Zoltan, Shilpa and I have worked to together since our first student film at AFI,” he says. “We worked for three years together on our previous feature. We know each other's tastes. There's a lot of stuff we don't have to talk about. We just know the shorthand.” 

Directing actors
 
During production, Stamm maintained a tightly sealed set to foster a sense of intimacy for the actors. “We had no one in the room,’ he says. “There was only one monitor on the set. There was no video village where people were watching, so the actors knew there weren’t fifty eyes on them.”
 
Improvisation was encouraged on the set, with Stamm allowing the actors to follow their impulses and develop their characters in unexpected ways. “The most important thing to me,” says the director, “is that the actors develop their own character flavor, which is the same style I worked on in my last film.”

Making the movie in the editing room
 
Stamm adds, “In a documentary, you're constructing the story in editing, and we wanted to simulate that as much as possible so that the finished film didn’t feel written. We wanted it to seem as if it were culled from hundreds of hours of footage, which actually it was.” 
 
Says Stamm, “We didn't want to try to imitate movies like THE EXORCIST. We wanted to give the fans of the genre something new and fresh, a new spin on things, rather than to repeat old clichés.”