At this point in time, despite there being a rich history of films within the horror genre that rely on Christian ideology as a starting point, few horror films have purported to be “faith-based.” Faith is often a place of departure, used either to justify the existence of the supernatural, or as a point of contention. The films that have been released with the expressed intention of carrying a Christian doctrine—films like The Lock In and Left Behind—have failed to find crossover appeal. However, in the past year, there appears to be a growing movement in Hollywood to present “faith-based” stories. Of these films, Casey La Scala’s The Remaining emerges as one of the more unique titles. A self-professed balance between the faith-based world and the secular mainstream world, La Scala’s horror-thriller has already been generating a strong response in the faith-based community. Anticipating its September release, we sat down with La Scala to talk about his career, what brought him to this project, and how he thinks mainstream audiences will react to its release.
Diabolique: As far as your film career is considered, your start was as an executive, is that correct?
Casey La Scala: Yeah, I started off as an executive at Touchstone, and I worked on a bunch of films for them. Then, I started a company at Warner Brothers and did movies like Donnie Darko and Welcome to Collinwood; things like that. After that, I went on and directed my own movie—which was a totally different genre, it is kind of a skateboard comedy called Grind—which was basically just for my kids. From there, my lineage has been writing, you know, all over town; and, ultimately, how [The Remaining] came together was, I was writing to direct an original horror for Dimension with Jason Blum. So, I was working with Jason, and I started thinking what would a global-Paranormal Activity look like…and I start thinking about Revelations, and thinking, ‘wow, has there ever been a faith based-horror move?’ And, I thought, ‘Oh, The Passion of Christ,’ because that is a straight-ahead horror movie [laughs], and people ate that movie up. It got me wondering if I could part of Revelations that would be embraced. So, I picked up a pen and some paper and I wrote a first draft of the script using the basic tenants of the Biblical end of the world.
Diabolique: When you completed the first draft, did you receive a lot of push back from studios?
La Scala: The only people I gave the script to was Affirm Films, they are kind of the voice of [the faith based] community, based out of Sony. When they looked at the script they weren’t sure. They were like, ‘I don’t know, it’s still a horror move,’ and then there was a pause, and they said, ‘let’s send it out to a few of the youth centers across the country to read, to see their take on whether the community would accept it.’ The response was, ‘absolutely, we would love this film.’ That is what got the ball rolling. So then, the process was trying to turn that script into something that could stand up to the evangelical debate. I started inputting the rules, and trying to tell the story a way that really followed everything Biblical; you know the seven trumpets and all those things. That is kind of how the lineage came, and the response that we’ve been getting in the community is really amazing. You know I just had a conference call with the whole marketing team at Sony and they are really shocked about what’s happening. Because, they are having screenings all over the country with youth ministers and leaders and impact groups, and they are all embracing the film, which is good.
Diabolique: Would you say that this film is created specifically for Christian audiences? How do you think the secular community will respond?
La Scala: When I was writing the script, leading into production, I was very sensitive to anything that was specific to the Christian audience. I wanted to make sure that all the things were presented in a way that the mainstream audience doesn’t feel that their getting it kicked down their throat. After seeing the film, everyone says the same thing. They say that there was expectation that it was a faith-based film, but it doesn’t have it in the theme, because really the theme is “find faith before you go and love the one you are with.” I really wanted to make sure that those universal themes played out and the kind of very specific rules that I needed to hit didn’t override that…I took extreme care to do that. It was a very interesting line to walk, but I think it works.
Diabolique: Do you think something like Darren Aronofsky’s Noah coming out this year helped to open the gates for a more secularized representation of Christian mythology and history presented in film?
La Scala: That is a good question because I think, obviously, that that does help. If you look at Heaven is Real, that really was a family film and that did really good at the box-office. The faith-based market is really the new buzzword now. You have people trying to jump into that and appeal to that market because the mainstream audiences are turning away. Noah is the perfect example. Films that overlap are being developed. I think that right now we are seeing a cycle of a lot of faith-based films out there, which only helps mine because I feel like I am kind of on the tip of the spear; as opposed to a year from now, where maybe mainstream audiences will be more cynical.
Diabolique: You co-wrote this film with Chris Dowling, how was the collaborative writing process?
La Scala: The writing process was kind of the challenging part. I wrote the original script in more of a secular way. I wrote a straight-ahead “global-Paranormal Activity” that was purely for the sake of thrills, chills, and character, right? And then, as I got into the world of Affirm—and working to make sure I hit the buttons that the faith-based market wanted to see—, Affirm had a faith-based writer, they had worked with on a couple of projects, come in and work on the Biblical accuracy of everything that was in it. That was kind the process of working with [Chris Dowling]. It was really great. We didn’t really have to do a lot of research, he knew exactly how to word things the correct way. It was really beneficial to me. Again, it was beneficial but it was also a challenge, in that, as a writer you are constructing the story from the characters and you want them to drive it. But you have to hit specific rules because of the doctrine—for instance, the seven trumpets, they have to go in order. So, dramatically, I can move the trumpets around a little bit to tell the story in a more interesting way, but we had to make sure that every trumpet had hit and the woe that followed was accurate. So that dictated and informed a lot of the structure, which impacted the choices that I really wanted to make. So, on the one hand, it was really amazing to work within the confines and try to focus this material for something that is powerful to the faith-based audience, but I really wanted to maintain the point-of-view of the mainstream audience; to make sure it is entertaining or enjoyable, scary, and it is not too hard hitting with the faith stuff.
Diabolique: How was your transition, as a director, from comedy to horror/thriller?
La Scala: Well, it is interesting. Coming from my history—my history as a Touchstone executive, where I worked on movies like Ransom, Enemy of the State, Armageddon, and things like that; these are big mainstream films. To going on to Warner Brother and working with films like Donnie Darko, that were immanently more character projects—being on set as a producer really was the thing that allowed me the kind of skillset to direct [The Remaining]. I have been on set for all types of genres, I’d written the material, and I’d worked with actors—even as a producer. The transition going into the horror genre was actually a lot easier than comedy, because that is really my genre; you know supernatural thrillers, that is all I write, all I read. Going from the kinds of films I produced into the directing of this was pretty intimate, a pretty seamless transition. Working with a low budget you have to be a little bit of a producer as a director. You have to be able to move things forward; you have to be able to make choices. So, in the beginning what I really focused on—I mean it was only a twenty-day shoot, it was very, very quick—three locations and two steady-rigs, to make it easy on myself on the production level, so that I allowed myself more time with the actors. You know comedy is all about timing, whereas supernatural thrillers are all about creating of tension and setting up of moments. So, I found it to be really a much easier transition. That is the genre I am working in now. My next project is [pause] have you seen that movie Heaven is Real?
Diabolique: I haven’t seen that one.
La Scala: Well [laughs], I am doing Hell is Real [laughs]. I think that this is definitely what I am meant to be doing, working in this specific genre.
Diabolique: Other than the Bible as your source material for The Remaining, what other sources of inspiration did you use in creating the film?
La Scala: Honestly, it is funny that, as I get older, I realize that a lot of the things when I was a kid imprinted on me. For instance, when I was a kid growing up and getting confirmed in a Lutheran church, and going to church camp, hearing these stories about Rapture and the end of the world used to scare me to death. And, I was an avid reader of Stephen King growing up. I just really identified with his voice. I love The Stand. When I was a kid reading it, you know it was “good vs. evil,” but it had a very religious kind of context, and I think that book really informed me, in terms of The Remaining…His books are about these characters, and the characters themselves create a lot angst and thrills and drama on top of the external, supernatural stuff…I always responded to that, and it was one thing I wanted to bring to this film. In terms of shooting, for this type of film, I really liked what the guys did on Chronicle. I think, in terms of the style, that I originally wrote this to be a single shooter. It was a single shooter, POV; it was all through Tommy’s camera, all through a single lens. And then, as I got deeper into it—and this is when I was writing The Amityville Horror, which I was supposed to direct but I ended up going off to direct The Remaining—I was going to do The Amityville Horror as a single shooter but after doing the process of that, I started thinking of doing [The Remaining] as a hybrid. I think that where we are headed with these types of found footage films, it allows the audience to get into some of these more emotional moments. You can kind of shoot to show these emotional moments without having to justify the camera position.
Diabolique: Now that the film is shot and edited, what are the test screenings proving?
La Scala: We have an entire marketing team that is showing the film all over the country. They are showing the film to impact leaders and youth centers to see if it’s the kind of film they want to show their congregation. Across the board, it is playing through the roof to these audiences. Sony is shocked at the impact. They are basically committing that they are going take 10,000 of their congregation to the show. There are actually congregations that are buying out theatres. I had a report yesterday that this one congregation—I can’t remember where it was, but it was a small Midwest town—had bought out three theatres just because they believe in it so much. You know how The Passion of Christ became kind of a think piece? It is a horror movie, but then you walk out it creates kind of a great debate. So, when it is served up on a platter for the faith-based community, when you walk out it you go, ‘Ok, what did we learn? What are some of the things that took place in this film? And, what are the things we need to do, in terms of our lives, about faith?’ It becomes a great outlet for the faith-based youth. ‘A horror movie…what…made for us?’ It has a message for their youth that they can utilize and teach. You know, they had a screening in DC and people were tweeting after, and people were crying in the lobby, and tweeting pictures of every one of crying and holding each other. That is the kind of reaction we are getting.
Diabolique: Do you have any fear that the faith-based community, or really anyone with any sort of agenda, might exploit the film at all?
La Scala: Yeah, hmm. [pause] I haven’t really thought about that. I am not sure how it would be exploited. [pause] I think the only way to exploit it would be to use it as, again, a think piece for congregations to talk about finding god, finding faith, and loving the one your with. I don’t know how else they could exploit it.
Diabolique: As you are rearing up for official release in September, do you have any concerns about any particular backlash that the film may receive?
La Scala: I think that, when you are doing something specific like the Rapture—the Rapture is a big event that is very hard to swallow, that is not very palatable for mainstream audiences—, there is always a fear that mainstream audiences will say, ‘look at them, they are so ridiculous.’ But, I am hoping will people will embrace the entertainment value of it and not take it for face value. There is always a fear that people will take that line of cynicism, but there is nothing you can do to control that. I really wanted this to be something that the faith-based community embraces, as well as the mainstream audiences. I wanted the faith-based audience to take away their kind of values about God and religion, and I wanted the mainstream audience to take away a kind of universal idea of faith.
Diabolique: And, you are in good company. There are a lot of films, regardless of intent, that placate a belief that there has to be some type of Christian reality in existence for the film’s reality to work; for instance, The Exorcist.
La Scala: That is an interesting point, because this could be any end of the world movie…I don’t want people to walk away thinking that you have to believe in God and join the Christian church or you’re not going be saved, I want this to be about ‘love the one you are with,’ because anything can happen at any given time, you need to embrace life. You know when I lost my father; right before he died he looked at me and said, ‘I wish I would have had more time.’ Right? And that sort of was it. I want people to have faith in something and love your family, love your friends, and be there for them in the moment, because everything could change. And, I thought that that overrides any kind of ‘just join the Christian church’ cynicism.
The Remaining opens nationwide September 5, 2014