Fearing 11-11-11 With Director/Writer Darren Lynn Bousman
Regular Saw director Darren Lynn Bousman's would like for you to know right off the bat that his latest, the numerology-obsessed 11-11-11 is nothing like the misfire The Number 23. Although this movie is likewise occupied with the pervasive, almost supernatural influence a specific number has on our daily lives, Bousman's supernatural thriller is focused less on the gimmick of its auspicious release date and more on the nearly fervent cult that has formed around the number. The film, starring Timothy Gibbs and Michale Landes, follows a writer who, following a recent tragedy, travels to Barcelona and becomes plagued by the mysterious, possibly ominous number leading up to the titular date.
We spoke to Bousman recently about some of his research into the number that give his movie its title, the death threats he received after 11-11-11 was announced, and how you can get more with less (money) in horror these days.
Twitch: How long have you been thinking about 11-11-11 as a project? What was its genesis
Darren Lynn Bousman: You know, I wish I could tell you [it] was a lot longer than I have. It was something that was brought to me by the genius producer, Wayne Rice, [who] ironically did a lot of "date" movies. He did Valentine's Day, he's got New Year's Day coming out. And I got a phone call from him one day and he had this idea for a movie called "11-11"--this was about a year ago. And at the time, I'd always heard "make a wish on 11-11," but I didn't know where it came from or what it was about before he pitched it to me.
And I researched it for a while and found out about the kind of cult around 11-11--like what the true meaning of it was, and it was not at all like what I thought it was, it had nothing to do with "make a wish on 11-11." And on our second meeting, he came up to me and said, "Now that you know what it is, let me pitch you the end of the movie." And he pitched me the end, and I was like, "Oh, that's fucking awesome! I gotta do this thing."
So, it started with a sort of random, chance encounter phone call, and it turned into this thing where, a couple of months after the meeting, I was on a plane to Barcelona to film it. But I can tell you that since being introduced to this 11-11 phenomenon, I'm kind of obsessed, and I think the more you think about it, the more you will see as well how the number 11 permeates your life, and how important it is to your life.
And my first gut reaction when someone asked me about this movie was that I didn't want to remake [Joel Schumacher's] The Number 23. And that was something that really scared me: you had two movies about numerology that basically came out around the same time, you had Knowing and The Number 23. And I didn't want to be one of those guys making another numerology film. And I think that the great thing about this movie is that it has nothing to do with The Number 23 or Knowing, it's its own thing that revolves around a number--the number being a date, and what's going to happen on that date.
So it's a built-in ticking clock, and every movie has a ticking clock, so in that respect, it has nothing to do with The Number 23.
Twitch: Could you tell me some of the more interesting things you picked up in your research about the date?
Bousman: I'll give you the backstory about it, but it's the long-winded boring answer. There's a group of people--hundreds of thousands, if not millions--that believe in this 11-11 thing. And this is insane, it's going to sound like I'm making it up, you should look it up.
A book was discovered, the Urantia--and the book was a huge, huge book--that was purportedly written by divine beings or supreme beings. And this book says it fills in the missing years of the bible. And it showed up in a bunch of churches and other religious places, and immediately people saw it as heresy. People said it was ridiculous, this book is not real. But the longer people sat with the book, the more it began to make sense. And it basically filled in the gaps between science and religion. And then this book talks about 1,111 "midwayers" that have been sent to Earth to basically bring us to the next plane of awareness. And these people who believe in the 11-11 phenomenon believe they're being contacted by these midwayers, these beings from another world.
So, it's pretty out there, but it's crazy how many people believe in it. And one of the first things I did was go onto the message boards for these people--these people devote their lives to this. If you go onto Amazon and type in "11-11," so many books have been written on the subject, and you go to YouTube, how many videos are about people's experience with 11-11?
And it opens itself to this kind of crazy, religious film. I've always wanted to make a religious movie, and it allowed me to look at it, take this idea of these 1,111 midwayers and do my own kind of spin on what 11-11 is.
Twitch: Did you have any trepidation at all about getting some kind of negative reaction to the religious element?
Bousman: I'm not preaching in this movie. And where films kind of walk the tightrope and where they fall over is where they try to tell people what to believe in. You can be an atheist and watch this movie, you can be extremely religious and watch this movie, it's not like I'm taking a side, saying "This is it," it's very subjective. Here is this story that takes place in this world. I'm not saying that this exists or this doesn't exist, it's up to the audience to figure out what they want to believe in, and in fact, it represents both sides from an atheist and a religious person as the two central characters.
So, no, in that respect I really wasn't worried, but I will tell you that I did get death threats from the--they're called "Eleveners"--about making this movie. Numerous ones. I've made some of the most graphic, horrible things in the last couple of years, from throwing people in needle pits to cutting peoples' heads off, and never so much as a negative word. But the minute they announce I'm making a movie called 11-11-11, people come out of the woodwork. I had letters sent to my manager and agents, I had Facebook messages [saying] "You're going to hell for this, you're going to burn forever for making this thing." Again, not from the religious side, from the Eleveners, people that believe in this phenomenon.
They believe that these beings, these midwayers, are there to help us, and so of course, here's the director of Saw making a movie called 11-11-11, and it must be violent and disturbing, and blah, blah, blah. Damn you for doing this.
So it was kind of crazy thing, watching the reaction from the Eleveners on this whole thing.
Twitch: So there was no place for some of the gore your movies are associated with in 11-11-11?
Bousman: No. There's nothing in it, it's not that kind of movie.
Yeah, there's violence, but with Saw, the violence was the gimmick; gore was the gimmick with these great twists and these crazy characters. But people went to Saw expecting to see gruesome, horrible, bloody things. And that's why I go to Saw now--when the last couple of Saws came out [I wondered] how are they going to kill someone this time, what are the traps going to look like this time? What are the twists going to be this time?
With 11-11-11, it's not that at all. To me, it's a very simple story, it's about the characters. Spain is very much a character in this--it's set in Barcelona. So, for me, it was about trying to create a dread-filled environment more than it was trying to gross people out. 11-11-11 didn't call for the violence or gore that was in the Saw films.
Twitch: How did Barcelona become the location for the movie?
Bousman: First off, I have a long, long history with Barcelona, that's where my wife and I were engaged. I've been there numerous times prior to that on different films, I just love the city.
But shooting in America, everything looks pretty much the same depending on where you go. In Barcelona, you have buildings that are hundreds and hundreds of years old. And I'm trying to make a movie about religion, and religion has been around since the dawn of time, so I wanted to have this very old, Gothic look. And the amazing thing about Barcelona is you have places like the Gothic Quarter where the entire place is Gothic. You have amazing cathedrals and churches that I wanted to be able to use.
We had shot this on a micro-budget, and what's kind of amazing to me is that in Barcelona, we don't have the same shooting rules that we do in America. We could go around and shoot anywhere we wanted in Barcelona without having to do the classic film permit xyz. You basically need a general permit and they let you film anywhere and everywhere. So the production value that we were able to attain by going to Barcelona was insane.
I also wanted to do a movie where you have a fish out of water, where you take a character who is comfortable in his environment and you put him somewhere he's completely uncomfortable before the horror begins. So in this case, you take a New York writer, who we place in Barcelona--he doesn't speak the language and he doesn't understand the language. It's terrifying and I think that that right there creates tension right off the bat. So that was one of the reasons right there: to create tension before the horror begins.
Twitch: Looking at things as a lower-budget filmmaker, what kind of lessons do you think the financiers and money men are taking from the ability to get something like 11-11-11 made or getting the huge returns from Paranormal Activity 3?
Bousman: Back in the day--let's use music videos, for example--back in the day, you would have one or two million dollars on a budget per music video. Now you're lucky to have a budget of $50,000. The difference being that as technology updates itself, it doesn't cost as much money to do what it used to cost a ton of money to do.
You know, if you have an iPhone now, you can make a movie. If you have a laptop, you can edit the movie and do its visual effects. So it's hard to justify spending $20 million on a budget when you really only need a million dollars to make it.
But you have to think about this: this is the movie business, it's all about the word "business." Everyone wants to make a profit. So let's say the budget of a movie is $10 million. You're spending $10 million to make the movie, you need $20 million for print and advertising, and that's $30 million before you turn a profit. Now, when you do a movie like Paranormal Activity or Insidious, you don't need--again, depending on what the movie is--$20 million. You can create tension and scares and do it for a fraction of the cost, and immediately you can be out of the red and into the green a lot quicker. And again, it's all about the business side of it.
And the business model suggests that you don't need millions of dollars to make these kinds of movies, you could do it for one or two and make a return on your profit much, much quicker.
Twitch: And now that this is all wrapped, what do you have coming up next?
Bousman: I just finished this movie, The Barrens with Stephen Moyer from True Blood, which is a passion project I've been trying to get made since Repo!, which is a monster movie about the Jersey Devil. It's really exciting, I'm actually sitting here right now in post for it. We just wrapped two days ago, three days ago. So, Barrens is the next thing coming out from me, and I'm also about to start another project who wrote Terrance Zdunich of Repo!. It's kind of this secret thing that we've been working on for a couple of years that I've very, very excited about.
11-11-11 is, of course, in theaters on November 11th. Midnight showings have been set up for the following cities/theaters:
AMC Empire 25 - Midnight
AMC Jersey Gardens
Universal City Walk - 11:11 PM
AMC Block 30 - Midnight
AMC Ontario Mills - Midnight
AMC Southcenter - Midnight
AMC Mission Valley - Midnight
AMC Gulf Pointe - Midnight
AMC Lynnhaven - Midnight
AMC Easton Town - Midnight
AMC Lennox Town - Midnight
AMC Indianapolis 17 - Midnight
AMC Oakview - midnight
AMC Quall Springs - Midnight
AMC Waterfront 22 - Midnight
AMC Cherry Hill - Midnight
AMC Star Fairlane - Midnight