A lifelong horror movie aficionado, Daniel Farrands sold his first project, a modern adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, to TriStar Pictures when he was 18-years-old. Shortly thereafter, he wrote the screenplay for Rave, which was financed by Smart Egg Pictures (producers of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street). Farrands also wrote the screenplays for Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (Dimension), The Tooth Fairy (Anchor Bay), and co-wrote the screenplay for Moderncine’s adaptation of The Girl Next Door, based on the controversial novel by Jack Ketchum. As a writer, he has sold feature film and television projects to Touchstone, Fox, NuImage and Miramax Films.
Farrands also helmed the History Channel’s two-part Amityville Horror specials (Amityville: The Haunting and Amityville: Horror or Hoax) and directed and executive produced the definitive retrospective on the Friday the 13th series (His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of ‘Friday the 13th’). Farrands also served as editor of the book Crystal Lake Memories – The Complete History of Friday the 13th and produced/directed Paramount Home Entertainment’s special editions of Friday the 13: Parts 4-8.
Most recently, he was a producer on Lionsgate’s supernatural horror film, The Haunting in Connecticut, starring Academy Award nominee Virginia Madsen, and which grossed nearly $65 million at the box office.
In conjunction with the DVD and Blu-Ray release of The Haunting on July 14, Daniel took time to answer a few questions from Damned Connecticut via e-mail.
Damned Connecticut: Since it’s been the most popular topic on our site over the last few months, let’s start with The Haunting in Connecticut — what kind of extras and other goodies can fans find on the DVD?
Daniel Farrands: We worked very hard to make the DVD and Blu-Ray editions of The Haunting in Connecticut as complete and satisfying as possible. For those who like to know all of the inside secrets of filmmaking, we have not one but two audio commentaries — one featuring our director Peter Cornwell, co-writer Adam Simon, my producing partner Andy Trapani and our editor Tom Elkins. The second commentary features Peter Cornwell along with actors Virginia Madsen and Kyle Gallner. Kyle was actually in Chicago shooting the upcoming remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street when we recorded the track. Through the magic of technology, we were able to have Kyle (in Chicago) and Peter and Virginia (in Los Angeles) on the same track watching the movie simultaneously. Both commentaries are terrific and well-worth listening to.
I also produced and directed a two-part retrospective on the true story behind the movie, which I hope will keep people discussing and debating this case for a long time to come. Something … well, let’s just call it unusual … occurred as we were filming the interview with Carmen Reed, the real-life woman portrayed by Virginia Madsen in the film. I won’t say much other than to go on record to say it was definitely NOT a staged gimmick, though I’m sure some people will think we planned it. Suffice it to say it’s something that I think will have people — skeptics and non-skeptics alike — talking for quite some time.
We also have an in-depth “Making Of” segment which takes you behind the scenes of the film and shows how many of the special effects sequences were created. Virginia has a great moment as she discusses the “anatomically correct” corpses.
Last but not least, there are two featurettes titled “Anatomy of a Haunting” and “Memento Mori: The History of Post-Mortem Photography” which are really informative and engaging.
I think it’s one of the most comprehensive DVD packages so far this year. We wanted to do something extra special and it was fun for me to kind of finish what I’d started.
Damned Connecticut: As producer, what was your involvement on the project?
Daniel Farrands: The project actually originated with me. I’d seen the Discovery Channel documentary, “A Haunting in Connecticut” and quickly realized that it was a case that I’d read about many years ago. I had written and directed the two “Amityville Horror” documentaries for The History Channel back in 2000, and I really wanted to find a feature film project that felt like “Amityville” in terms of it being a modern haunted house story but with a new twist. This really felt like the one. So I immediately went to my managers at the time, Steve Whitney and Andy Trapani, and showed them the documentary. They absolutely agreed that it was a home- run of an idea.
We then went through the process of tracking down Carmen Snedeker (Reed) and getting her on board with us. Just finding her was quite an ordeal — she and her family didn’t exactly seek out publicity and they even changed their names (and appeared in silhouette) in the documentary. After a few false starts, I managed to track her down at her church, of all places. I’d come across an online newsletter thanking Carmen for bringing a basket of cookies to the Sunday social. Purely on a whim, I followed that lead on the slim chance it was the Carmen we were searching for and it turned out to be a fortuitous call. It was Carmen and she called me a few days later, a bit skeptical but nonetheless willing to speak with me. Luckily she had seen my “Amityville” shows and I think that gave her a bit more confidence in discussing her story with me. Unlike a lot of other documentarians, I didn’t take a pro or con stance with the Lutzes and I assured her we were not interested in getting behind a project that defamed her or her family. The rest was simply a matter of optioning the rights of Carmen and her family members and finding a home for the project, and luckily Gold Circle Films saw the potential that we did.
Damned Connecticut: What drew you to this particular story? What did you learn about it that you didn’t expect going into it?
Daniel Farrands: As I said, my familiarity with the story went back a number of years and I think the Discovery Channel documentary only solidified my interest in it. I think what sets this story apart from most haunted house tales is that there is a strong emotional undercurrent, particularly in the relationship between the mother and her cancer-stricken son. That’s the component that really touched everyone involved in the project and I personally think some of the best moments of the film are the ones where we feel that mother/son bond and the sense of fear as the family is faced with the mortality of their eldest son — it’s not just about the strange events in the house, it’s about a family that must band together in the face of death.
I think what I learned about the Snedekers is similar to what I learned about the Lutzes: that despite a lot of public bashing and criticism, they have maintained that what they experienced was real. It was interesting sitting in Carmen’s living room shooting the retrospective for the DVD with her and her children and nieces and watching them pore over the old newspaper articles that came out at the time and discussing the events as a family. There was not a lot of embellishing going on — it really felt like they were just sharing the pieces of this strange part of their lives. There’s a strong bond between all of them, and I think maybe like all families who experience extremely trying situations and come through it there’s a link there that people on the outside looking in can’t entirely understand but you feel it all the same.
Damned Connecticut: What were the challenges in bringing this story to the screen?
Daniel Farrands: Like any project, there is a lot of development in terms of the script and getting to the point where the film is set for production. From the get-go, no one intended to make a movie that was a simple retelling of the documentary — Discovery Channel already did that and did it very well. At the end of the day, we set out to make a scary, emotional and entertaining film and I hope we achieved that. For those who want to discuss the minutiae of the true story, Carmen’s website has a lot of good information as does John Zaffis’.
I think everyone knew that Titanic was based on true events as was Schindler’s List — there are countless examples of films based on or inspired by true events — but they’re still movies and they are meant to entertain as well as enlighten and to create interest in the event. Having done both documentaries and feature films, I can tell you they are two distinctly different creatures — and each one has its place. It doesn’t negate the facts of the true events because the film takes on a life of its own.
Damned Connecticut: What was the amount of input and involvement on this film from Carmen Reed or the Warrens?
Daniel Farrands: Carmen wasn’t creatively involved in the film, other than providing the writers with the original backstory that gave them enough of a starting point to go off and craft their screenplay. She knew we were making a movie first and foremost and I think she had enough confidence in the filmmakers to know we weren’t going to create something that was offensive or hurtful to her family, and she understands that the film exists in its own universe. She, like the late George Lutz, believes that keeping the discussion alive is important — she’s not out to convert anyone or to convince them that these things exist or that the house in Connecticut is still haunted. She’s willing to tell her story to anyone open-minded enough to listen. I think she and her family have a pretty healthy perspective on all of it.
Damned Connecticut: Stating the film was “based upon a true story” gave you artistic license to shape it how you wanted — how did you decide which parts to keep in and what parts to fictionalize? Why not just a straight re-telling of the Snedekers’ story?
Daniel Farrands: Again, when you make a film that’s intended to entertain mass audiences you don’t come at it from the standpoint of a day-to-day retelling of the actual event. Not only would that put audiences to sleep, it simply wouldn’t appeal to the people who make or sell movies. I think the writers came at it from the standpoint that there never was a definitive explanation for the origin of the presence that the Snedekers claim to have encountered in the home, and that gave them the license to say, “OK, here is one possible explanation.” The idea of this teen-aged boy who was so close to death forming this emotional bond with a boy on the other side of life who had experienced but not yet accepted his own death felt like a really emotional and engaging staring point for the story, and that’s where we began.
I’ve learned after many years of working in the film industry as a writer, director and now producer, that you really can’t satisfy everyone and if you try, you’ll never get anywhere — or you’ll just lose your mind trying. We hoped at the end of the day the movie would get people interested in the actual events and, of course, we tried to give audiences a smart, engaging and entertaining roller coaster ride. Whether or not we achieved that is up to the individual — I know a lot of people who loved the movie, and a lot who didn’t, but at the end of the day we made the movie we set out to make.
Daniel Farrands: As I said earlier, we had a rather unusual occurrence during Carmen’s interview for the DVD. My cameraman and DP experienced something strange on the audio track and there was an incredible cold that came through the room at one point. Actually, it was enough to make me stop the interview and go outside. It was a perfectly warm day out, the air conditioner was not on and there were no open windows for an errant Arctic breeze to attack us. But the sudden temperature drop in the room was uncomfortable enough for me to want to step away, which is exactly what we did. Ironically, Carmen’s husband was in a minor car accident at the very time we were experiencing this. I’m not saying it was ghosts … but I’m not writing it off either. I am absolutely saying it was odd.
Damned Connecticut: There’s also a story out there that one of the actors stayed in a haunted hotel room during the shooting of the film — any truth to that?
Daniel Farrands: The hotel in Manitoba (where the movie was filmed) was alleged to be haunted. Kyle Gallner especially complained of some rather strange disturbances in his room. Producer Andy Trapani talked about some weird things as well. All of their stories are on the DVD!
Damned Connecticut: You’ve also written and directed The Fear is Real: Reinvestigating the Haunting (in Connecticut) — can you tell us a little about that project? What inspired it?
Daniel Farrands: When Lionsgate invited me to produce the special features for the DVD, I felt it was important to do something respectful involving the true story and the actual family. Carmen was more than happy to step up for anything we had in mind, as were John Zaffis, her sons Brad and AJ, and her two nieces, Tammy and Kim. Unlike the Discovery Channel documentary, however, no one is hidden in silhouette in our piece. You’ll see everyone telling their story and just talking about what they remember about what occurred to them in the house.
I think giving them a chance to talk openly and to tell the story from their perspective was the right thing to do, and for those people who are interested in the case it will give them a lot more information to go on. We didn’t shy away from the skeptics’ point of view either — you’ll hear from former neighbors, friends of the kids and other people who don’t believe the Snedekers’ claims. That’s part of what makes a story like this live on — you can’t prove the supernatural, so the debate will continue. And hopefully that ultimately adds to the enjoyment of the film.
Damned Connecticut: Any interesting experiences while working on that project?
Daniel Farrands: I mostly just found it fascinating and gratifying to interview so many people involved in the case. The current homeowners are justifiably concerned about the lookie-loo’s who’ve started hanging around since the movie came out but we got a statement from them that appears at the end of the documentary.
I think the most interesting aspect of it was the fact that so many people from the actual town are fascinated by the story and many are not quick to write it off. In fact, the week we were there shooting interviews a group called CPEAR (Connecticut Paranormal Encounters and Research) was doing a presentation about their ghost hunting expeditions at the local library, prompted in part by the local interest in the movie. I was surprised by the way so many people greeted us open-heartedly. Even one of the local police veterans took us for a ride in his squad car and showed us some of the sights in town that are reputed to be haunted.
Of course there were skeptics and those who don’t believe the claims, especially the woman who lives across the street from the home. But as a whole the community of Southington, unlike Amityville, seems to embrace this part of their history. They find it fascinating and certainly something to discuss and debate. Maybe I was surprised most to find the Southington Library handing out free “Haunting in Connecticut” bookmarks!
Damned Connecticut: Some people have accused Carmen Reed and the Warrens of greatly exaggerating the real-life events associated with The Haunting. What’s your take on the situation?
Daniel Farrands: From my dealings with them, I don’t see any embellishing or exaggerating going on. I find Carmen to be credible, kind and extremely willing to answer questions — even the tough ones. I do think it’s unfortunate that she’s been attacked (sometimes viciously) by various writers and reporters who have never interviewed her or listened with an open mind. Like Amityville, I wasn’t there when any of this happened so I am not qualified to give an opinion on the veracity of the story. All I can say is that the family members all hold to their version of the events and no one’s story seems to contradict anyone else’s. If it was a hoax, I don’t know what the point would be — it took over 20 years for a movie to be made, and the book wasn’t exactly a profitable venture. I don’t see money as being a motive. I just think they are a family that experienced something that really frightened them. What that was is anyone’s guess.
Damned Connecticut: Since Connecticut now gives substantial tax breaks to movie productions, was there any discussion to actually filming “The Haunting” on location in state?
Daniel Farrands: I don’t think so. It was always intended to be a Canadian production. And I don’t think the current homeowners would have been open to us filming in the actual house.
Damned Connecticut: Any other Connecticut legends/hauntings/tales draw your interest for a future film?
Daniel Farrands: Nothing set specifically in Connecticut but I am developing several projects taken from other ghostly tales from around the country.
Damned Connecticut: You’ve written and directed multiple episodes of “History’s Mysteries” as well as been involved in the Halloween franchise and other horror-type productions — what draws you to these kinds of projects?
Daniel Farrands: I think we are all fascinated with the paranormal, whether skeptical or staunch believer. We don’t have the answers to what lies beyond this life, if anything. I think human beings are constantly searching for those answers — most people want to believe our existence doesn’t end with this life, and I think that quest has prompted some fascinating stories and questions. I’m interested in good stories — stories that question our mortality and what awaits us on the other side — and The Haunting certainly qualifies as one of them.
Daniel Farrands: I have had a few situations occur in my life that have certainly made me question the paranormal, but I still have a bit of the skeptic within me. Maybe that’s what helps me sleep better at night. I don’t know if I would feel comfortable if I knew definitively that ghosts and spirits were around us all the time. I do tend to be a little superstitious and I think at times we find ways to connect the dots and find uncanny, and perhaps eerie, synchronicities throughout our lives. Is it fate or destiny, or is life a series of random occurrences over which we have little control? Questions that are pondered endlessly, so I tend to be open to those questions. I suppose that makes me something of an agnostic believer!
Damned Connecticut: You’ve worked on both documentaries and fictional films — what do you enjoy about each? Is there one you prefer to the other? Why?
Daniel Farrands: Both are gratifying for different reasons, and I honestly don’t prefer one medium over another. Adam Simon, one of our screenwriters, has also done some amazing documentary work and I think many writers and directors like to stretch themselves creatively. For me, if there is a topic or a story that interests me, I look for the best medium through which to express that story or point of view. At the end of the day, all forms of storytelling have their rewards.
Damned Connecticut: You write, direct and produce — again, what do you enjoy about each? Is there any one you prefer to the others?
Daniel Farrands: Writing is the most personal of all artistic pursuits and there is great freedom in being able to tap out your wildest fantasies and dreams in your own quiet space. That said, writing for movies is less personal in the long run because you are ultimately writing by committee — more often that not, your work becomes subjected to the notes and suggestions (and many times rewrites) of people who don’t share your vision of what the project should be. Producing is more nuts and bolts, what are we going to need to make it happen? Directing is probably the most stressful because you have so many people coming at you at the same time and you have to know how to steer that ship and get a team of people to interpret your vision. Each discipline has its pros and cons but I’m just grateful to have carved a small niche for myself in a business that was just a pipe dream for me as a kid.
Damned Connecticut: Finally, what other projects are you currently working on? Anything of interest to the paranormal and horror fans out there?
Daniel Farrands: I just finished producing the all-new Deluxe Editions of the “Friday the 13th” films (Parts 4-8) for Paramount, which were a thrill to work on as I was a huge fan of that series since those formative teenage years.
I’ve got a few new projects in the pipeline, including one about a vengeful ghost terrorizing a transcontinental flight and another one set in Louisiana based on a well-known local ghost tale and one right next door to you guys in my home state of Rhode Island. I also am working on getting the rights to a remake of a cult 80’s horror film that we hope to shoot in 3-D.
I love movies, I love good stories, and I’m just incredibly happy to get to do what I love for a living.
Again, a big thanks to Daniel for taking the time to answer our questions. If we haven’t mentioned it, The Haunting in Connecticut is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray.