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Jeff Wadlow • IMAGINARY

Written By:

Andrew Dex
IMAGINARY_

After the success of Truth or Dare and Fantasy Island, writer/director Jeff Wadlow has returned to the horror spectrum through his new movie Imaginary! Daring to create a horror character that could sit alongside the likes of Chucky and Annabelle, STARBURST discovers everything you need to know about the mysteriously off-putting bear that is Chauncey, and much more…

STARBURST: Where did the idea for Imaginary come from? As someone who has already created a couple of horror movies, how excited were you to be working on an idea like this?

Jeff Wadlow: It came from Jason Blum, who signed me to a first look deal, after Truth or Dare and Fantasy Island. He challenged me to make a classic Blumhouse film that dealt with the iconography that is in a lot of his movies. A family, in a house, at night, there’s a bump that they hear. That kind of cadence. He wanted to know what my version of that would be. The second point of inspiration honestly came from somewhere inside of me. I wanted to make a movie about an imaginary friend, and I thought it was really fertile. I enjoy playing with subjectivity in filmmaking, asking the audience, “Do you think this is real, or is this not real? If it’s not real, does it still have real consequences?” and I thought an imaginary friend movie would be the perfect opportunity to explore some of those notions cinematically. Then the third point of inspiration was my co-writers Greg Erb and Jason Oremland, these guys are two of my close friends. They are really talented screenwriters, who had been working within the family film space, and they wanted to make a scary movie about an evil teddy bear. I had asked them to come and talk about ideas at Blumhouse, and so, you take those three things and combine them, and you have the movie Imaginary.

Jessica and Max both have quite tough backstories. What were these like to create, and what did you want them to bring to the movie?

Well, Jessica and Max are the two main adult characters in the film, and they’re dealing with pasts that were problematic, and I think that that is totally relatable. It’s not like they’re particularly special in that sense. We all have trauma and unfortunate things that have happened to us. We’ve had to decide how we want to process and deal with them as we move through our lives. That created the emotional underpinnings of the film. Fortunately, I was lucky to have two incredible actors DeWanda Wise [Jessica] and Tom Payne [Max] play those parts, and bring them to life in a manner that I couldn’t have even imagined myself.

DeWanda Wise is brilliant as Jessica! Can you elaborate on what DeWanda was like to work with and what else did you really want to see from her character?

Working with DeWanda is a pleasure. She is such a pro; I’ve never worked with an actor who is so prepared. She is also an executive producer on the film, so she was really my creative partner in every decision we were making while we were shooting the film. Not just decisions around her character, but, she was helping when it came to picking the costumes that the paramedics were wearing when they show up for that one scene. She was very much my right-hand creative consultant through the whole production process. I love her, she is so talented as an actress, I just enjoy watching her do her thing, and would absolutely kill to work with her again.

What was it like to design and bring Jessica’s childhood home to life, and how did you want the home to feel and come across for the audience?

I really wanted to make sure that the home was not a classic horror movie house. We’ve all seen that scene where the family moves into the Gothic, old, dilapidated, haunted house, and you’re like “Why! Why are you doing this! This is not going to go well for you or these children you’re bringing here!” It doesn’t make any sense. We were shooting in New Orleans, and it was a challenge to avoid that Southern Gothic theme that’s everywhere. I just wanted a house that honestly looked like the suburban dream. This idyllic, middle class place, where you could raise your kids, protect them, and they could have a wonderful childhood. Despite the few things that happened to Jessica when she was young, she pretty much has good feelings about her childhood, which we put on the screen in the credit montage with the home movies, and I just wanted to have that feeling when we saw the house for the first time. From a production standpoint, it was very challenging because we shot all of the first floor stuff on location but then we had to build the second story of the house on a sound stage. We had to match the staircase to make it look like it’s seamless. There are sequences in the movie where Jessica starts upstairs and she walks down the stairs, and we do a real time cut, and we pick her up on the stairs and she walks into the first floor. Then we do another cut and she’s in the basement. We are going from a set to a location to a set in just those three shots. Often probably, stretched out over multiple weeks, and so, keeping all of that straight in your mind is certainly a challenge for a filmmaker.

Alice is pretty much the backbone of the story for the entire film, as she talks with Chauncey throughout. What was that like to work on, and how did you go about threading that key narrative through the movie?

Well that was a creative debate. Like “What does Chauncey sound like? What is it like for Alice to be talking with Chauncey?” There are versions of the script where Chauncey’s voice was a unique thing, but I had this idea in the middle of development that Chauncey’s voice should be Alice’s voice. If a kid has an imaginary friend, the kid would do the imaginary friend’s voice. So then, as it becomes clear throughout the film that Chauncey might be more than just your normal, imaginary friend, it was important for me, for him to keep Alice’s voice. But also for that voice to change. I think that it’s an interesting idea, that continues to evolve throughout the story, and I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but the audience will see that it starts with Alice, and then it changes, but then it also ends with Alice.

Betty Buckley has been in some really awesome horror movies herself! How did she end up becoming the sitter/neighbour Gloria, and what does she bring to the character?

Betty Buckley is an icon! It was beyond a privilege to be working with her. Not only was she in Carrie, but she was also in Split, which is a fantastic horror film, and Jason Blum produced it. She emailed Jason and said “Hey Jason! Do you have any horror movies for me to be in?” and of course, Jason Blum being the savvy producer that he is said “Of course I do Betty!” Then he turned to his team and said “Do we have a movie for Betty Buckley?” Jason then emailed me and said “Can Betty play Gloria?” and I was like “Can she? Will she!? I would love to have Betty Buckley play Gloria” We were really lucky to have her, and it’s not just exciting because she’s such an icon. She’s an icon for a reason, she brings her A-game, and she lights up the screen every time she’s in a scene.

Can you tell us how the look of Chauncey came to be? What was that like to create, whilst also finding a balance where the character can come across as both sinister and innocent?

Designing Chauncey was tricky, because we knew we were trying to make a horror movie icon, like something that people would remember, and would be worthy of being thought of in the same moment as like Chucky, M3GAN or Annabelle. I knew that he couldn’t look as creepy as Annabelle or like a scarred messed up Chucky, because why would any kid want to play with a teddy bear that looks that demonic? But at the same time, we looked at some designs, where he just looked too much like Paddington, or Winnie-the-Pooh, and you’re like “Well, there’s nothing really off putting about this design”. It really just came down to asymmetry, if you look at Chauncey, his ears are off, his eyes are off, and he can still be cute, but that asymmetry creates a feeling of unease. It makes you realise, on some subconscious level that things are not right.

 

In the trailer, we see Chauncey move by itself up the corridor! So, how important are practical effects to you, and how much can we expect from that approach in Imaginary?

Practical effects could not be more important to me. I always embrace what I call a ‘practical CG hybrid’ approach, which means if we can do the gag practically, if we can create the monster in the real world, if we can do the gag on set, then we should, and then we should use CG to clean it up, augment it, elevate it. Try to fool the audience a little bit more. Audiences are savvy; you can’t just put a guy in a rubber suit and think that they’re going to think that’s exciting, so you have to find ways to support and supplement the practical element. It should be practical because then the actors have something to react to. It gives the thing a real weight in reality. That the audience can feel. Light is interacting with it in an authentic way, and it gives the visual effects artists a reference, so when they augment it, they can make it look like the real thing.

Horror soundtracks are iconic, and for you got to work with the awesome Bear McCreary again. Is there anything you can tell us about that collaboration, and maybe how he helped shape the movie’s soundtrack?

Well, if I can toot my own horn for a second. One of the smartest things I did when making this movie was very early on, and I knew I wanted to work with Bear again. I contacted him well before you would ever talk to your composer, and I said “Hey Bear I need the Chauncey jingle! I want it before we start shooting” and he wrote it months before we started shooting. I hadn’t even cast the whole movie yet. And the first time I heard it, I was blown away. It’s such an earworm. Once you hear it, you cannot get it out of your head. It has almost this Sgt Pepper, Lennon/McCartney thing to it, which is inexplicable, but I think it’s just a fantastic piece of composition. It’s become a part of the film in a way that I just can’t even really explain. I would hum it into the microphone on set when it’s supposed to be playing through the bear, which changed how we edited the movie. I’m so glad I had that thought because you often don’t really get into the music until the movie is done. But it was an important piece of music for the film. I’m so glad that Bear wrote it before we started shooting,

IMAGINARY is in cinemas now. You can read our review here.

Andrew Dex

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