My Soul To Take – BEHIND THE SCENES
BEHIND THE SCENES
WES CRAVEN (A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes, Scream series) brings audiences closer to terror in Rogue’s 3-D My Soul to Take. In the sleepy town of Riverton, Massachusetts, legend tells of the Riverton Ripper, a serial killer with multiple personalities who swore he would return to murder the seven children born the very night he died. Why? Legend has it that this man had seven personalities…and only one was a killer. The others cried out for help, and in the melee that followed his last series of attacks, the police shot the killer. All seven personalities supposedly died on the spot.
But now, the Ripper personality wants his revenge.
It was just a ghost story to amuse the town’s kids…until, on the sixteenth birthday of the Riverton Seven, an unknown assailant begins to murder them, one by one. Has the psychopath been reincarnated as one of the Riverton Seven, or did he
survive the night he was plunged into the town’s river after a fiery ambulance crash? His body was never found, so the town’s police believe that’s the logical explanation. But is it the right one? It’s up to one boy to find the answer…before he and the rest of the Riverton Seven are dead.
Adam "Bug" Hellerman (MAX THIERIOT, Jumper) was one of the children born the bloody night the Ripper vanished. A simple, achingly innocent boy, he’s grown up hearing the stories about the killer and has been plagued by nightmares since he was a baby. But this unlikely hero finds himself chosen to save his friends from the monster that’s returned in flesh or in spirit. Now, he must face an evil he knows won’t rest…until it wrecks the vengeance it pledged the day Bug was born. How Bug accomplishes this makes for a coming-of-age story with edge, humor and pure terror in equal degrees…and a wild and gripping ride from beginning to end.
Marking his first original full-length screenplay since 1994’s New Nightmare, the suspense thriller showcases Wes Craven’s uncanny ability to terrify with twisted stories that still hit close to home. In My Soul to Take, he introduces us to a signature villain as fearsome as Freddy Krueger or Scream’s Ghostface. The master of horror reminds us that the most frightening monsters among us are human…and sometimes have a face as familiar as our own.
Wes Craven returns to his roots with the shocking suspense thriller My Soul to Take. For the film, he imagined a tale of unimaginable tragedy and disturbing violence that kept him awake at night. Still, he admits he was excited to fully conceive and helm a project again. "I hadn’t realized it had been that long since I had written and directed something," he reflects. "I had directed Red Eye and other films by very talented writers, but it wasn’t personal quite the way that this is."
Reflecting upon his inspiration for the Riverton Ripper, the evil who terrorizes the small town in My Soul to Take, Craven offers that it was the story that chose him. He wondered what would happen if an average man who was living a humdrum existence happened upon the weapon of a serial killer who was terrorizing the region. When he realizes that the knife actually belongs to him, he starts putting together the pieces of the puzzle …and is devastated by what he finds. For the tale, Wes Craven dreamed up a serial killer who had split personalities—one a family man, the other a twisted psychopath. The main character was someone whose body was shared by the kind and gentle Abel Plenkov…as well as the vicious Riverton Ripper.
Craven explains: "I thought, ‘Wow! Everything is going great for this guy, then…what if?’ Suddenly, he’s having these echoes of ‘Oh my God, did I do something?’ I thought how horrible that would be, particularly if that man had been
living an exemplary life before he switched." The writer/director fleshed out what would happen if these personalities spilled out of the murderer and into others after a brutal night when he was shot and killed. This inspired the idea for the birth of seven babies born the night Abel/the Ripper died. "I thought it would be interesting to follow these kids and tell their stories through the eyes of Bug, the central character," Craven says. He knew it would be challenging to juggle the manifestation of the killer’s personalities among the teenagers known as the Riverton Seven, rumored to share the soul of the Ripper. This resulted in a screenplay that is "much more complex than anything I had done before," says Craven. "It was initially tough to keep all of these characters interacting so that it didn’t become just two stories—a kid at school and a kid with his family. I wanted to mesh all of the characters within a 24-hour span, and therein lay the challenge."
When Craven’s wife, fellow producer Iya Labunka, read the script, she recognized he had created a sociopath as terrifying and creepy as his villains of the past.
"Our greatest fears always come from our imagination," Labunka reflects. "I felt that the story worked on so many different levels. It’s got thrills and chills and blood but it also has a lot of tension-relieving humor, which is what Wes is known for."
My Soul to Take offers more of a psychological thriller than many of Craven’s other creations. When we first meet Abel, he’s living what appears to be a normal life, when suddenly, an evil personality appears that sends him completely out of control and after the very people that Abel loves the most.
"That’s what’s so terrifying about our villain," offers Labunka. "He has a family he is obviously in love with, but he has no control over what happens. That destroyseveryone and everything that is dear to him in a way he could never have anticipated or wanted. It’s frightening because it can happen to any one of us, and it can occur in a way that we have no control over."
With much of the story told from his perspective, Bug’s quest is to discover if Abel was someone who was good but was taken over by a horrible affliction…or if he was a homicidal maniac who cleverly disguised his disease by pretending to be normal.
Additionally, Bug must learn if the person responsible for the new killings is the Ripper returned, if one of his classmates is possessed by the Ripper’s soul…or even more terrifying: if the Ripper’s soul is inside Bug himself.
The core myth of My Soul to Take is best expressed by the Haitian-born EMT who witnessed the Ripper’s crimes all those years ago: Jeanne-Baptiste (played by The Visitor’s DANAI GURIRA). "The Haitian’s concept is not that a person has multiple
personalities, it’s that a person has multiple souls," explains Craven. "If that person should happen to die and is host to an evil personality, that’s not the end of it; rather, when a person dies, their soul—or in this case, souls—can live on. If the bad guy dies, it’s not necessarily over, as his soul can reappear in one of the Riverton Seven and they could be the next iteration of the brutal killer."
Key to his story was a tale of internal transformation. Craven explains that concept as it’s expressed in Bug. He says, "This experience can be something quite beautiful, as death can be a shedding of an old persona and result in rebirth. At the film’s end, all Bug’s illusions are stripped away and he has to face everything that’s happened to the people of Riverton. Out of all these horrible things, he takes the best of what has been shattered and puts it in resolve. This is what I think we all do; we have to lose our illusions. We find out that many things are lies, and we take the best of what we can salvage."
With Craven’s shooting script in place, it was time to cast the young characters who make up the Riverton Seven, as well as the supporting cast of players who live in this twisted world of the Ripper.
When casting the Riverton Seven, the filmmakers decided they wanted to work primarily with largely unknown performers. "We were very cognizant of finding talented young actors without well-known faces, so that the audience wouldn’t have preconceived ideas when they come into the cinema," comments Labunka. "We had to find the right balance and tone for the cast to work together as one, as all of the characters spring from one person. We needed to have ways of showing different aspects of Abel’s personality in these seven actors."
Craven found the casting process inspiring. "We discovered a group of enormous talent for the film by jumping back and forth in between coasts," he says. "All the kids we found are just wonderful, very special and very different."
Adam "Bug" Hellerman is the lead character in the film, but his was actually one of the final roles that was cast. Another actor had been initially brought on board, but he fell ill at the last minute and left the production close to the beginning of principal photography. "We thought we had found someone who was perfect," says Craven. "In the end, the gods smiled upon us, and we found an absolutely incredible replacement in Max Thieriot. He understood the arc his character had to take, which was the one thing that frightened us most—working with a relatively young and inexperienced actor on such a challenging role."
Max Thieriot admits he was initially nervous about playing Bug. "I realized that if I was going to do a thriller, there’s only one person I should do it with, and that’s Wes Craven," he says. "Wes is definitely the king of the genre, and that’s what I thought about while I was reading the script. It’s not a slasher movie with blood and guts. It has a lot more depth than that and is more of a thriller than a horror movie." He was also excited to play a character that takes on many personalities and additional traits as the film progresses. "Little pieces of other people come out in Bug, and they can be quite subtle—including their voices."
The opportunity to work with Craven was something that appealed to many of the young cast members. The Brave One’s JOHN MAGARO was cast as Bug’s best friend, the often-bullied Alex Dunkelman. "This film felt different than Wes’ other films, Magaro says. "A Nightmare on Elm Street is based in the supernatural, while My Soul to Take is a little more human with some great folklore and mythology."
"The idea of actually working with such an iconic writer and director was hard to imagine," commends Twelve’s EMILY MEADE, who plays Riverton’s selfappointed high school queen, Fang. Meade describes her character: "Fang isn’t written
as a caricature; you get to see all sides of her. That’s what makes Wes’ films classics. They have those classic horror movie moments you would expect to see in a scary movie, but you also care about the characters and feel like you know them…even if they’re bad."
The Great Debater’s DENZEL WHITAKER, (not the byproduct of Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker), who plays Jerome King, another one of the Riverton Seven, admits he was initially apprehensive about portraying a blind character. He says, however, that he quickly got over his fears: "When I heard it was Wes Craven, I thought, ‘I’m going to work with a horror legend! This is the man who made Freddy!’ I wanted the chance to be a part of another Craven classic. He’s the originator of horror films that haven’t been done before."
In Good Company’s ZENA GREY, who plays the fervently religious Penelope Bryte, was excited about her role as the most pragmatic of the Riverton Seven. Her only hesitation came before the rehearsal. Once production began, however, her fears were assuaged. She notes: "The audition turned out amazing because Wes coached me the whole way."
My Soul to Take marks PAULINA OLSZYNSKI’s first feature-length film, and she jumped at the chance to work with Craven and her fellow cast mates. She was cast to play the object of Bug’s affection, Brittany Cunningham. "Wes is an amazing writer and director, and I loved the script," she explains. "This is a great start for me."
The remaining actors who comprise the Riverton Seven include newcomer JEREMY CHU, who plays the mischievous Jay Chan, and The Last Song’s NICK LASHAWAY, who plays the aggressive jock (and Bug’s frequent tormentor) Brandon
O’Neil. Completing the core young cast is up-and-coming young actress SHAREEKA EPPS of Half Nelson. She was brought on to play Jerome’s overprotective sister, Chandelle.
For the role Abel Plenkov/the Ripper, the production selected RAÚL ESPARZA, an established theater actor who had been nominated for a Tony for his performance in Speed-the-Plow. Of his interest in the project, he reflects: "When I read the script, I could tell this film would be more unsettling than your typical slasher picture. I went in and tried a lot of different things with the multiple personalities, and I thought I would either make a complete fool of myself or that Wes would like it.
After I had finished, he told me, ‘That was brilliant,’ and two days later I had the part."
Esparza knew he had signed up for something powerful. "You wouldn’t expect Wes to make your regular horror film. You know he’s going to take it and twist it again and see what else he can do with it. He has this extraordinary ability to play with what really frightens us. In A Nightmare on Elm Street, he hit on the terror that parents have of someone hurting their child. With My Soul to Take, he’s playing with the reverse: the complete horror of a man faced with the fact that he is capable of hurting his family and how monstrous that is. He’s hitting the most primal level of what scares us as humans."
Sideway’s JESSICA HECHT, who plays Bug’s guardian, May, has long been interested in complex mental issues. She offers: "I read the screenplay late one night and became completely engrossed. My father is a psychiatrist and deals with multiple personalities, so I found the villain’s character fascinating." Although Hecht hates to be scared as a moviegoer, she fell in love with her character. She laughs: "I told myself to stop being such a sissy and jumped in."
Throughout filming, the cast found Craven’s focus on their characters’ arcs and story lines quite inspiring. Hecht notes: "When working with Wes, you have to totally give over to him, but in a great way. In his mind, the psychology of all these characters is worked out, so when he speaks to you about it, he gives you these wonderful little details about what’s happening. We are all a vehicle for which to tell the story for him and you just hope that you are flexible enough to do this part that he has created."
With the key cast now in place, the filmmakers relocated to Connecticut to begin filming the terror that the Ripper would wreak upon those unfortunate enough to live in Riverton.
My Soul to Take gave director Craven the opportunity to work with a new crew for the first time in two decades. "It’s the first movie I have made in 20 years that is totally separate from the group of people that I have mostly made movies with," he offers. "Since my regular crew was not available, we decided to put ourselves out into the film world and work with all new people."
During his search for a cinematographer, a friend of Craven’s recommended Petra Korner, who had recently shot The Informers for director Gregor Jordan. Craven had heard only positive feedback about her work on that film, as well as her efforts on The Wackness, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. Recalling their initial meeting, Craven says: "Into the room came this young, vital woman who bounced in with solid ideas and confidence. We thought, ‘Why not?’ We decided to go with somebody new, and we’re so pleased we did."
Adam Stockhausen, who had previously worked as an art director on The Darjeeling Limited, served as a first-time production designer on My Soul to Take. He was one of many new crewmembers who took this opportunity to impress with his skills.
"There are a number of people in this film who went up a level and have had the opportunity to stretch their wings," says Craven. "We were working with Anthony Katagas, a producer who has made five films in Connecticut, so I knew we would be on solid ground. Within a week, we were all great."
The team decided to film in Connecticut, where Craven’s original version of the ilm The Last House on the Left was made years earlier. They shot in the state for 47 days—beginning in April 2008 and wrapping in June. But it was Monterey, California, not the Northeast, that served as the inspiration for one of the film’s most unique design elements: the California condor.
Labunka, who refers to the massive bird "as another character in the film," explains: "Bug and Alex make a giant, terrifying mechanical condor with which they terrorize their class. The idea grew from Wes’ originally setting the story in Monterey,
where there is a condor rescue mission. When we took the film to Connecticut, we decided to keep the condor in the script…as we were very invested in this part of the story."
Once they had scouted the locations, Craven discovered that "Connecticut as a setting had a lot that was similar to Northern California, particularly the forests and streams everywhere." He admits he "always wanted the film and setting to be very primal with earth, wind, fire and water. As it turned out, Connecticut was the place to do it."
In the Northeast, the team took advantage of the natural surroundings, weaving in story ideas through different elements. In particular, the spectacular waterfalls around Kent, where most of the ritual sequences were shot, proved breathtaking inspiration to Craven and DP Korner.
The filmmakers were particularly fortunate to find the bridge location where they filmed one of the victim’s bodies as he fell. Offers producer Labunka: "We found this abandoned bridge that had been built in the early 1900s by German iron workers. We had just one night to shoot the scene, and as we arrived in the valley, the fog rolled in. It was just beautiful. Usually fog lifts within an hour, but it settled until we had finished the entire sequence; it sat at a perfect level for Wes."
The most demanding aspect of the production for the cast and crew was the five weeks of night shoots, all located deep in the woods. "We worked with the crew to slog through ice and choked rivers," recalls Craven, "not to mention the fact that we were stung by bees and bitten by ticks."
Ever the optimist, Raúl Esparza describes the experience as "a hell of a lot of fun." He laughs, "There’s nothing like wielding a knife while you’re covered in blood, screaming at people at four or five in the morning. It was total mayhem, but a great time." Working on stunts and with a special effects crew was a new experience for the Broadway actor. "I picked up on the stunts and the fight choreography pretty quickly…except for the big stuff like when people start flying out of windows."
During the ambulance scene in which the killer attacks EMT Jeanne-Baptiste, Esparza managed to remain lighthearted. "They were shaking the ambulance, and I was covered in so much blood that it had coagulated over the course of the day. I became a human Post-it. Everything that moved stuck to me—blankets, people, knives—so I got the worst case of the giggles. Wes assured me it was fine; there was so much howling and screaming going on, you couldn’t tell it was laughter."
The ambulance stunt turned out to be one of the most spectacular moments in the film, and Craven has nothing but praise for stunt coordinator MANNY SIVERIO.
"Every time he would give us a stunt, it made us gasp," the director recalls. At first, Craven had planned for the ambulance to go up a ramp and roll over a few times, but very quickly the team realized that the square emergency vehicle wouldn’t roll. "In the end, Manny devised a ramp jump that put the thing 24 feet in the air, like a phenomenal football. The crash just took our breath away. We certainly got a lot of bang for our buck."
In order to bring Craven’s vision to the screen, he hired Silent Hill’s AARON WEINTRAUB as the VFX supervisor. For Weintraub, it was the opportunity to work with a director "who has informed a whole generation of mimickers." Still, he says, "It’s
great to work with the master of them all. It’s not just about the blood or about seeing the visceral, gory things. It’s a lot more psychological. With Wes, there’s more to the mood and lighting and the way shadows play. This gives an overall psychological creepiness that informs the visuals and works on a higher level."
The bulk of the VFX team’s work was to create the town across from the river, since nothing like that existed at the location chosen in Connecticut. "Most of the effects revolve around the Ripper ritual sequence on the riverbank in the middle of the night,"
says Weintraub. "The idea is that the town is across the river, and there weren’t any towns opposite a river in any of our practical locations. Through matte painting and digital projections onto 3-D geometry, we created this world of the town. It wasn’t practical to shoot everything with a blue screen, which meant a lot of rotoscoping and painstaking compositing with details such as little branches and twigs put in later."
In the film, the river symbolically represents the divide between the two worlds of the town and the woods, and the filmmakers wanted to keep it as realistic as possible.
"There are great natural details in the water where the light picks up off the ripples. As much as possible, we maintained the real life that Wes had created and added to it where we needed to," says Weintraub.
For the SFX team, there was a healthy amount of gore and blood enhancement involved in creating the film. "That’s all the fun stuff we like to do," says Weintraub. During filming, they endeavored to practically craft as much of it as they could, to avoid unnecessary CGI in postproduction. Notes Weintraub: "We added extra blade tips to knives and other implements that people were stabbed with." At the end of a tough and demanding shoot, Craven shares: "I can honestly tell you that this is a movie where I feel like I’m really on my game. I think it has a lot to do with working with a great crew. Everyone put their heart and souls into it. It’s come to life in a way that I’m very excited about."